There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. In practice, the government enforced legal and policy protections of religious freedom selectively. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period. Some religious groups seeking registration faced burdensome bureaucratic requirements and significant delays.
Problems with registration and operation varied significantly across the country, largely as a product of the policies and practices of local government officials. Registration requirements changed frequently and without public announcement; religious organizations reported these practices routinely caused confusion.
Registrations and renewals of religious groups allowed the government to vet applications, as well as to supervise and limit the number of places of worship and clergy. It also allowed the government to monitor the ratio of foreigners to nationals of the country conducting religious activities. A religious group must provide the following documentation to the General Authority when applying to register: a letter requesting registration, a letter from the city council or other local authority granting approval to conduct religious services, a brief description of the organization, its charter, documentation of its founding, a list of leaders, financial information, documentation of ownership of a building, brief biographic information on the person wishing to conduct religious services, and the expected number of worshippers. Although the General Authority possessed the ultimate authority to approve an organization’s application, approval was often made difficult by local officials who refused to cooperate with the applicants.
Registrations were only valid for 12 months and religious institutions must renew their registrations annually with up to six different government institutions across local and national levels. Foreign-run churches in certain regions mentioned that Mongolian-run Christian churches were sometimes permitted to register every three years rather than every year, suggesting a bias against foreign missionaries.
The Ulaanbaatar City Representative Hural registered 23 religious organizations (17 Christian, five Buddhist, and one Catholic) and extended the permits granted to 121 preexisting religious organizations in Ulaanbaatar between July 1 and December 31. At year’s end, there was a total of 59 Buddhist, 153 Christian, nine Shaman, four Muslim, and one Baha’i religious organizations registered at the Ulaanbaatar Hural office.
In practice local legislative bodies adjudicated the applications and administered a separate local registration process. Officials in Ulaanbaatar reportedly employed an arbitrary and extemporaneous means of registering places of worship and were cited by multiple religious groups as justifying their approach by stating that relevant laws were outdated. 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 various Christian denominations seeking to operate multiple churches within Ulaanbaatar. Church groups with multiple branches suspected the Ulaanbaatar authorities preferred this system because it allowed the government to collect greater tax revenue. At the same time, this past year Khovd Province began to allow one common registration umbrella for faiths containing multiple branch places of worship. The regulations and procedures for registering religious organizations were not fixed and were subject to change based on the whim of local and city government legislatures.
Both the preliminary registration and annual renewal process were burdensome for religious groups. However, unregistered religious institutions were often able to function in practice. The application process, which can range from two weeks to several years, may deter religious organizations that wish to register. Some Christian groups alleged one of the main reasons for government officials’ refusal was that 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 reported particularly for Tuv Province, while certain other regions reported few issues regarding registration for minority religious groups.
The Muslim community in Ulaanbaatar reported last year’s difficulties in attaining registration and land acquisition for proposed mosques in the provinces of Darkhan-Uul and Khovd had been resolved. The Muslim community also reported that the registrations of the three mosques in Khovd Aimag that had been suspended were now restored. They reported no bureaucratic problems with the ongoing construction of a new Islamic cultural center and mosque in Ulaanbaatar. Construction had, however, been suspended due to funding issues from certain sponsoring Arabic countries in the wake of political and economic problems. The mosques and Islamic centers received financial assistance from religious organizations in Kazakhstan, Turkey, and the Gulf States.
Authorities in Tuv Province, near Ulaanbaatar, continued to deny registration to Christian churches during the year. There were no churches registered in the province. Nonetheless, according to a Tuv religious leader, more than 30 unregistered evangelical churches operated in the province. Several of these churches reported close monitoring and scrutiny from the General Intelligence Agency (the country’s main intelligence service) and other government officials. Multiple religious leaders stated that the chief of the Tuv Provincial Legislature explicitly stated his opposition to registering any churches. The current crop of leaders in the provincial legislature has been in office since 1999 and the de facto policy since that time has been to refuse permission for churches to register.
One Tuv Province church that had been denied registration approached the country’s National Human Rights Commission in 2008 to obtain assistance. The Commission met with the Tuv Provincial Legislature. After that meeting, the Legislature’s members again voted unanimously against registration. After ten years of registration denials, this church proceeded to sue the Tuv Province legislature in 2009. That same year, the Supreme Court found that the provincial legislature’s denial of registration to the church was illegal. Nevertheless, the provincial legislature continued to defy the Supreme Court decision. The legislative speaker wrote to the church explaining that registration was not granted due to the church’s alleged enticement and proselytizing of citizenry and the involvement of foreigners (the basis of this latter charge was unclear.) The church rejected both claims and subsequently filed another lawsuit in May demanding registration, which was again denied in September, this time on the basis that the church was conducting religious activities without registration. (The Tuv Province government has often employed this basis over the years for denying churches registration.)
A Protestant church in the city of Erdenet, Orkhon Province, with over 100 members reported repeated problems with local officials over the past several years regarding its re-registration. Church leaders reported that five to sixother registered churches and approximately 15 unregistered churches faced similar registration problems in Erdenet, but also stated that Mongolian-run churches had fewer problems. They also reported that unregistered churches did not experience obstacles in conducting religious activities despites their status. Nevertheless, religious leaders stated that city officials frequently denied permits to Christian organizations to meet in public places. This Protestant church expected to learn whether it would receive an extension of its registration in March 2012; at the end of the year, however, the church did not know whether this extension would be for six months or a year. The local pastor alleged that the failure of local authorities to issue extensions of at least a year at a time is in contravention of the law, which is arbitrarily applied at best. The Erdenet government has also delayed issuing previous extensions to the church. As a result of the Erdenet government’s delays in issuing extensions, the church has had to pay various fines over the years to stay in operation. The pastor expressed the fear that if the church’s registration is not renewed, local authorities intended to obtain the land of the church, located in the center of the city of Erdenet.
Unregistered religious institutions were often able to function in practice. Some institutions reported harassment by authorities and were unable to sponsor foreign clergy for visas. Unregistered churches allegedly experienced harassment from 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 they present official documentation and rosters of church members, and, in some cases, pay bribes. Since businesses and other nonreligious organizations also reported similar treatment, it was not clear if such action was due to the religious affiliation of the given organizations.
The law forbids those who entered on work visas from undertaking religious activities during their work hours. Those with work visas sometimes proselytized during their free time, after working hours. Officials in the Immigration Agency reportedly called and threatened organizations sponsoring visas for Mormon missionaries, complaining about their extracurricular religious activities.
The government theoretically granted religious visas for individuals intending to stay in the country more than 90 days, but the application process was lengthy and restricted to officially registered religious organizations. Christian organizations reported that no religious visas were issued to foreign Christian missionaries during the year and that such individuals seeking to enter the country usually were given other types of visas (such as student, business, or volunteer). Christian organizations also reported problems with certain immigration officials who they said categorically denied foreigners visas if they believed the visitor was a Christian coming over for religious purposes. In cases where visa requests were sent from registered religious organizations, the Immigration Agency was legally required to make a decision within seven working days. The Immigration Agency reported that 50 foreigners from 10 countries received religious visas during the reporting period.
During the year, the Immigration Agency did not report expelling any foreign religious workers. Nevertheless, local lawyers representing Christian missionaries reported that 8 to 11 foreigners were unofficially deported for religious activities during the year. These foreigners carried on missionary activities to the extent permissible without a religious visa and were in turn deported on the basis of visa violation technicalities unconnected with religious activities.
Some officials criticized instances of Christian charity work, alleging the charity workers used material incentives to attract potential converts to their religion. Christian churches also reported a high frequency of financial audits.
All non-diplomatic individuals and organizations, including religious organizations, are required to pay customs duties and value added tax on nonfinancial goods from abroad, including food, clothing, and medical donations. The Mormon Church in Ulaanbaatar reported that officials demanded fees in addition to the customs duties for imported donated clothing.
Certain religious organizations had difficulty obtaining visas and visa extensions because they did not meet their quota of national employees.
Parliament internally observed a greater number of official Buddhist and Shamanist ceremonies in parliament than in previous years. Parliament also allocated 136 million tugrik (approximately $100,000) to build a ger (traditional tent) inside the parliament for a Shaman fire ritual.