There were no reports of abuse of religious freedom, although the government imposed numerous restrictions that affected members of minority religious groups. Moreover, the government selectively enforced legal and policy protections of religious freedom. Some religious groups seeking registration faced burdensome bureaucratic requirements and significant delays.
Christian groups and lawyers protecting religious freedom reported that local government authorities threatened those engaging in private religious services with unspecified “legal action.” These groups reported that government authorities had not prosecuted such activities in court, but preferred to use intimidation.
Problems with registration and operation varied significantly across the country, largely dependent upon the policies and practices of local government officials. Registration requirements changed frequently and without public announcement; religious groups reported these practices routinely caused confusion.
The government used the registration and renewal process to assess the applications of religious groups, as well as to supervise and limit the number of places of worship and the number and type of clergy admitted to the country. It also allowed the government to monitor the ratio of foreigners to Mongolian nationals conducting religious activities. Although the General Authority possessed the ultimate authority to approve a group’s application, according to observers, approval was often made difficult by local officials who refused to cooperate with some applicants.
Foreign-run churches in some regions reported that authorities permitted Mongolian-run Christian churches to register every three years rather than every year, depending upon a religious leader’s personal connections with the local government. Nevertheless, both foreign-based and local Christian groups complained that the process for obtaining registration and extensions was arbitrary and that there was no appeal mechanism for denials.
In December the government reportedly began conducting an audit of all religious groups for transparency and compliance with laws. Certain religious groups reported receiving requests for lists of all their employees (including their national registration numbers), congregation meeting information, and bank statements. According to observers, the criminal police claimed to be gathering such information in response to a possible increase in money laundering and human trafficking within certain religious groups, as well as a perceived increase in the threat of terrorism and the possibility that religious groups could be used to assist such an attack. Observers stated that the police did not indicate from whom or what this threat of terrorism came.
The Ulaanbaatar City Council granted eight of 51 registration requests from religious groups (five Christian, one Buddhist, and two shamanist) and extended permits for 114 of 134 religious groups requesting renewal in Ulaanbaatar between January 1 and November 26. As of November, there were 81 Buddhist, 146 Christian, 15 shamanist, two Muslim, one Bahai, and one Shinto groups registered.
Local legislative bodies administered a separate local registration process. Officials in Ulaanbaatar reportedly employed an arbitrary means of registering places of worship. The Ulaanbaatar City Council also refused to recognize branch churches as being affiliated with one religion; instead it required each individual church to register as a separate entity. This caused particular problems for Christian denominations seeking to operate multiple churches within Ulaanbaatar, as each branch was obliged to register as a separate religious group. Church groups with multiple branches alleged the Ulaanbaatar authorities preferred this system because it allowed the government to collect greater tax revenue.
Unregistered religious groups were often able to function, although at times the groups encountered opposition from authorities. In certain regions, leaders of unregistered Christian churches reported they did not experience obstacles in conducting religious activities despite their status, but said they were frequently denied permits to meet in public places. Unregistered churches allegedly experienced harassment in the form of frequent visits by local tax officers, police, and other agencies. Registered churches also reported harassment by local authorities who demanded, at times without clear legal justification, that the churches present official documentation and rosters of church members, and, in some cases, pay bribes. Attorneys representing Christian groups reported a significant drop in such harassment during the year. Because secular businesses and other nonreligious groups reported similar treatment, it was not possible to determine whether this treatment was due to the religious affiliation of a given group.
Approximately 60 percent of the approximately 400 churches belonging to the Evangelical Alliance were registered. Unregistered churches were unable to obtain registration from local authorities. The Evangelical Alliance and lawyers representing Christian groups reported that most unregistered churches were in rural areas. According to Christian leaders, this was due to a combination of outdated bureaucracy and discrimination against Christians.
The length of the application process, varying from two weeks to several years, may have deterred some religious groups wishing to register. Some Christian groups alleged one of the main reasons for government officials’ refusal to register a church was that the officials believed there were “too many” churches, or that there should at least be parity in the registration of Buddhist temples and Christian churches. Registration problems were particularly serious in Tuv province, which had no registered churches. Numerous religious leaders reported that the chief of the Tuv provincial legislature explicitly stated his opposition to registering any churches. According to evangelical leaders, more than 30 unregistered evangelical churches operated in the province and were reportedly subject to close monitoring and scrutiny from the authorities.
Evangelical leaders also reported government opposition to Christian activities in Bayan-Olgiy province, which was predominantly Kazakh Muslim. Other regions reported fewer issues regarding registration for minority religious groups.
A Protestant church with more than 100 members in the city of Erdenet, Orkhon province, in contrast to previous years, reported being permitted to register for three years, rather than just one. Nevertheless, foreign religious leaders in Erdenet also reported that only five out of 20 churches were registered, adding that unregistered churches frequently had difficulties with the authorities in conducting religious activities. Mongolian-run churches reportedly experienced fewer problems.
The government granted religious visas for individuals intending to stay in the country more than 90 days, but the application process was lengthy. Only officially registered religious groups could sponsor religious visas. Christian groups reported that missionaries seeking to enter the country were usually given other types of visas (such as student or business), thereby restricting the scope of religious activities in which they could participate and making them more vulnerable to deportation due to inconsistent policies regarding what was permitted for foreign visitors . Christian groups also said certain immigration officials categorically denied visas if they believed the visitor was a Christian coming for religious purposes.
According to religious leaders and lawyers representing religious groups, some immigration officials reportedly called and threatened groups sponsoring work visas for Christian volunteers (there was no separate visa category for volunteers); the officials objected to the volunteers’ extracurricular religious activities. Observers reported that foreigners carrying out missionary activities without a religious visa were sometimes deported on the basis of visa violation technicalities often unconnected with religious activities. Local lawyers representing Christian groups reported that the immigration agency was more tolerant than in previous years of foreigners volunteering their time for religious activities.
Due to the sensitivity of these visa issues, individual religious groups were reluctant to criticize local authorities publicly.
Some government officials criticized Christian charitable efforts, alleging the charity workers used material incentives to attract potential converts.
The government contributed financially to the restoration of several Buddhist sites that were important religious, historical, and cultural centers. The government did not otherwise subsidize Buddhism or any other religious groups.
The Muslim community reported no problems securing government permits for ongoing construction of a new Islamic cultural center and mosque in Ulaanbaatar. However, construction stopped due to decreases in funding from sponsoring Arab countries in the wake of economic problems. Previously, mosques and Islamic centers received financial assistance from religious groups in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States.
Parliament internally observed a number of official Buddhist and shamanist ceremonies.