Reports indicated the liberty of interpretation given to provincial and local governments concerning the registration of religious groups led to inconsistently applied regulations to registered groups and reports of harassment by local officials of unregistered groups. People under the age of 16 were required in some provinces to provide written parental authorization to participate in religious services. The government did not block the Dalai Lama’s visit in November.
Registration and renewal procedures for religious institutions reportedly varied significantly across the country, largely depending upon the practices of local government officials. Some Christian and Muslim groups said the government inconsistently applied regulations, changing procedures frequently and without notice. Christian groups also said new officials sometimes interpreted regulations differently. Both foreign and local Christian groups stated the registration and renewal process was arbitrary in some instances, with no appeal mechanism for denials.
The length of the registration process reportedly varied from two weeks to three years, deterring some Christian religious groups wishing to register. Some groups reportedly did not try to register because they were unable to fulfill the legal requirements for registration due to insufficient size or lack of dedicated, regular worship sites.
Ulaanbaatar Assembly officials continued to say the registration and renewal process allowed the government to assess the activities of religious groups, to monitor the number of places of worship and clergy, and to know the ratio of foreigners to nationals conducting religious activities. They stated any applications for initial registration or renewal that ostensibly were “denied” were more accurately “postponed” because of incomplete documentation, poor physical conditions of the place of worship, instances of providing English language instruction in schools without an educational permit, or financial issues (e.g., failure to pay property tax or to declare financing from foreign sources). The authorities said in these cases, they instructed religious institutions to correct deficiencies and resubmit their applications. Religious leaders reported that as of October, the Ulaanbaatar Assembly had not granted any new registration requests or renewals since the assembly was elected in June. Assembly members said this was due to a lack of time following the new government’s formation. Leaders of one religious group reported some assembly inspection team members said there were “too many” churches, especially for “nontraditional” (i.e., non-Buddhist or non-Muslim) faiths.
The Ulaanbaatar Assembly limited registrations to one year, although local authorities in some other areas granted registrations valid for two or three years.
The Ulaanbaatar Assembly and other local assemblies continued to decline to recognize branch churches as affiliated with a single religious institution; instead, each individual church was required to register separately. According to Mormon leaders, the Ulaanbaatar Assembly’s position on branches, which had unclear status in the law, caused particular problems for Christian denominations seeking to operate multiple churches under a centralized administration, although such denominations were able to register their churches individually. Ulaanbaatar and other authorities preferred the no-branch system because it allowed the government to collect greater tax revenue, according to some religious groups.
Unregistered religious groups were often still able to function, although at times they experienced harassment in the form of frequent visits by local tax officers, police, and representatives from other agencies. The Mongolian Evangelical Alliance (MEA) expressed concern the unregistered status of many of its member churches left their pastors vulnerable to legal action and further investigation. Shamanist leaders expressed concerns the requirement for a registered place of worship placed limitations on their religion because of its nature-linked practices, although a few established registered places of worship. One Christian denomination also reported this requirement restricted its ability to hold worship services in members’ households. Unregistered churches lacked official documents establishing themselves as legal entities and as a result were unable to own or lease land, file tax returns, or formally interact with the government. Individual members of unregistered churches typically continued to own or lease property for church use in their personal capacity. Unregistered churches could not open bank accounts, leading pastors to open personal accounts through which they administered church funds. Some of these pastors received donations from foreign churches and foreign-owned businesses – sometimes in large amounts – in their personal accounts, leaving them potentially open to investigation for apparent money laundering.
Numerous religious leaders had previously reported the Tuv provincial legislature chief stated his opposition to registering places of worship. Some church leaders met with Tuv government representatives after receiving a report the provincial government was going to close all churches. According to these leaders, the government representatives listened to their concerns and refrained from closing churches. One Christian group reported that after having tried to register multiple times in Tuv without success, it relocated its community to Ulaanbaatar.
Religious groups reported continued difficulties in Darkhan-Uul Province, where authorities in late 2013 reportedly stated their intent not to register new religious institutions. According to the Mongolian Muslim Societies Federation, however, authorities registered two mosques after three years. Some churches reported local officials withheld reference letters required for renewal until the church performed a “project” benefiting the local community or government. One religious group reported a request from local authorities to fix a pedestrian walkway and road. Some churches continued to report delays of more than a year in renewing their registrations, although it was unclear whether the delays were linked to religious affiliation. Some religious organizations run by foreigners in the province reported receiving multiple audits from a variety of local authorities inspecting their membership, registration, building permits, and tax records.
The MEA reported barriers to registration in Khuvsgul Province, where at least two of 10 churches were awaiting registration as of October. The MEA reported one church in Dornogobi Province was registered after three years.
Some registered churches reported harassment by local authorities. They reported officials required, at times without clear legal justification, official documentation and rosters of church members and, in some cases, bribes to secure registration. As secular businesses and nonreligious groups reported similar treatment, it was not possible to determine whether this treatment was as a result of religious affiliation.
In some areas, local authorities reportedly placed restrictions on the participation of minors in church activities. According to representatives of multiple Christian groups, government officials continued to restrict unaccompanied minors’ participation in religious services due to fears services would be used to “brainwash” them. One Christian group reported the Ulaanbaatar Assembly did not extend the registration of one of its churches because the children of church members were accompanied to services by friends whose parents did not also attend. In Uvs and other provinces, minors under the age of 16 required written parental permission to participate in church activities.
Religious groups continued to experience periodic audits, usually by officers from tax, immigration, local government, intelligence, and other agencies. In some cases, Christian groups continued to report they received audits less frequently compared to previous years and experienced no unannounced audits. Other Christian groups continued to receive unannounced inspections, and one reported that inspections previously performed solely at the municipal level were now performed at the district level as well, which imposed increased administrative burdens on the groups.
Government officials received Buddhist leaders during the Lunar New Year.
The Dalai Lama visited from November 18-23 in response to a standing invitation from leaders of the Buddhist community. Previously, there were reports the government had not permitted the Dalai Lama to visit since 2011 due to pressure from the Chinese government. Before the visit, Chinese authorities warned the government of potential retaliatory consequences. After the visit, the Chinese government indefinitely postponed bilateral political and economic discussions with the country, including on a concessional loan for as much as $4 billion. In December the Mongolian foreign minister expressed the government’s regret the visit negatively affected the two countries’ relations and stated that the government would not allow further visits during its term.
Some foreign nationals faced difficulties obtaining religious visas, although some religious groups continued to report fewer difficulties compared to previous years, which they said was due to immigration officials viewing the groups’ social and charitable projects more favorably. Since most religious groups were bound by the 95 percent local-hire requirement, groups that could not afford to hire enough local employees could not sponsor additional religious visas. It was possible to pay a fee to exceed the quota restrictions, but most churches reported they could not afford this cost. Christian groups reported foreign missionaries seeking to enter the country often did nonreligious work and applied for the corresponding type of visa (such as student or business). As a result, the groups reported they could legally participate only in limited religious activities and were vulnerable to deportation because of inconsistent interpretations of the activities in which they could legally engage. In general, most visa problems were related to registration difficulties, but individual religious groups were reportedly reluctant to criticize local authorities publicly because of the need for local authorities’ approval for registration.
The government allocated funding for the restoration of several Buddhist sites that it said were important religious, historical, and cultural centers. The government did not provide similar subsidies to other religious groups.
The minister of justice established a task force on religious institutions in March to update statistics on religious institutions and identify issues related to religious activities. In local media interviews, task force representatives recommended the creation of a consolidated database of religious institutions and said police, intelligence, tax, and insurance officials should take additional steps to verify the sources of income and financing of religious institutions.