The US Consulate has put the burden of helping American novelist captive in Muslim, Morocco on the Catholic Church
A perfect example of how “life imitates art”: The writer Roman Payne first became known internationally with the publication of “The Wanderess” in 2013. The hero of the book, a traveler and adventurer named Saul, has a price on his head in Libya. Incidentally, the author of “The Wanderess” has also just become a “wanted man” in North Africa.
Roman Payne—an American by birth—is being detained indefinitely by the government in Morocco where his US passport has been confiscated by their authorities.
The event happened after a civil dispute in court that was dismissed. Following the dispute, Payne was invited (convoqué) to visit the Préfacture of Police of Marrakech for three different interviews where the police inquired, during the first two, about his activities in the country. The reason for the third interview was unclear to Payne. Some words in Arabic were exchanged between the police and then Payne was escorted on the back of a motorbike by one of the officers to the “Cour d’Appel” (appellate court). There, he was interrogated for 15 minutes in a small room by two men in business attire. Payne did not learn the roles of these officials since he reported having not understood half of what was said in the room (Payne is fluent in French but does not speak Arabic and the conversations in the room were reportedly half in Arabic). Following the interrogation, one of the officials said that Payne’s passport was to be taken so that he could not leave the kingdom; and that “his case would be reviewed” in the coming months. They did not encourage him to seek an attorney.
One would expect the US to immediately intervene on behalf of their citizen held captive abroad, but instead, the US Consulate is refusing support, stating that such intervention should be handled by the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church responded to this insistence with outrage and denied any responsibility whatsoever with helping Payne with his political situation in North Africa. The Colombian-born official of the Catholic Church stationed in Morocco told Payne that “Affairs regarding American-citizens held captive in Muslim countries are politics that concern the American government only, and not the Catholic Church.”
The US did not respond to this statement but proposed that the Moroccan government and Payne should work together to resolve his forced-exile in their country. The single gesture they made to help Payne was to supply him with a list of “Suggested Attorneys in Morocco to assist Americans with foreign affairs.” Payne interviewed all of the Marrakech-based attorneys recommended to him by his consulate and was disappointed by the United States’ apparently haphazard methods of selecting council for Americans abroad, especially in Muslim countries where international relations with the US range from tedious to utterly chaotic. “These lawyers were inept and confused,” he said. One attorney did not even know why he was on their list. “They put me on that list a long time ago. I am not sure why,” he told Payne.
While the US government had washed their hands of the affair, the writer continued his struggle with the Moroccan government. This week he met with Samir Merzouki, a Moroccan official working in foreign relations, who received him cordially and was sympathetic to his situation. Merzouki invited the writer to discuss the matter personally over coffee. He was shocked by the United States’ lack of involvement in a matter such as this. He said that he had great respect for America and was impressed by their tremendous global power, wealth, and influence. “Why they do not use their influence to help their citizens in peril abroad is dumbfounding,” he said.
As the matter stands today, Payne is still without representation or council, and his government is making no further attempts to remedy this. His passport is still in the possession of the Moroccan authorities and he is forbidden to leave the kingdom. He is now living in asylum on the outskirts of Marrakech.
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