Buddhist leaders stated they maintained a standing invitation for the Dalai Lama to visit Mongolia in his role as a religious leader. The government last permitted the Dalai Lama to visit in 2011. There were reports that economic and political pressure from the Chinese government obstructed subsequent visits.
Registration and renewal procedures for religious institutions reportedly varied significantly across the country, largely depending upon the practices of local government officials. Some Christian groups reported no problems. Others said the government inconsistently applied regulations, changing procedures frequently and without notice. Christian groups also said new officials interpreted regulations differently. Both foreign and local Christian groups stated the registration and renewal process was arbitrary in some instances and that there was no appeal mechanism for denials.
The length of the registration process, reportedly varying from two weeks to up to three years, may have deterred some religious groups wishing to register.
Ulaanbaatar Assembly officials stated that the registration and renewal process allowed the government to assess religious groups’ activities, monitor the number of places of worship and clergy, and know the ratio of foreigners to nationals conducting religious activities. They stated that any applications for initial registrations or renewals 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 that in these cases, they instructed religious institutions to correct deficiencies and resubmit their applications. Accordingly, as of December the assembly reported it had granted all 13 new registration requests from religious institutions and renewed the registrations of 164 of 166 religious institutions.
The Ulaanbaatar Assembly limited registrations to one year, although local authorities in some parts of the country granted registrations valid for two or three years.
Some Christian leaders reported incidences of registrations expiring before they could secure renewals. Immigration authorities allowed foreign nationals of some religious groups to remain in the country after their organizations’ registrations lapsed. These cases primarily occurred in Ulaanbaatar, when the Ulaanbaatar Assembly explained to immigration authorities that the lapse was due to a delayed assembly meeting.
The Ulaanbaatar Assembly and other local assemblies declined to recognize branch churches as affiliated with a single religious institution; instead, each individual church was required to register separately. The Ulaanbaatar Assembly’s position on branches, which have unclear status in the law, caused particular problems for Christian denominations seeking to operate multiple churches under a centralized administration, according to Mormon leaders, although such denominations were able to register their churches individually. Ulaanbaatar and other authorities reportedly preferred the no‑branch system because it allowed the government to collect greater tax revenue.
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 other agencies. The Mongolian Evangelical Alliance (MEA) expressed concern that the unregistered status of many of its member churches left their pastors vulnerable to legal action. Shamanist leaders expressed concerns that the requirement for a registered place of worship placed limitations on their religion due to its nature‑linked practices. Unregistered churches lacked official documents establishing themselves as legal entities and as a result were unable to file tax returns or formally interact with the government. In addition, unregistered churches could not open bank accounts, leading pastors to open personal accounts through which they administered church funds. Such pastors may have 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 previously reported that the Tuv provincial legislature chief stated his opposition to registering places of worship. The National Statistics Office reported two Buddhist temples in Tuv province, a decline from six in 2011, and no other religious institutions registered in Tuv. According to evangelical leaders, multiple unregistered evangelical churches operated in the province.
Religious groups reported continued difficulties in Darkhan‑Uul province, where authorities in late 2013 reportedly stated their intent not to register new religious institutions. At year’s end, local authorities had not registered two mosques that submitted registration applications in late 2013, although both were able to operate normally. Some churches reported that local officials withheld reference letters required for renewal until the church performed a “project” benefiting the local community or government. Some churches reported 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.
Some Christian groups also reported barriers to registration or registration renewal in other provinces. According to the MEA, of 10 churches in Khuvsgul province, only one was able to register as of the end of the year. The MEA also reported that none of its member churches in Dornogobi province were able to register or renew registrations, attributing this problem to the influence of the Khamariin Monastery, which is adjacent to an important Buddhist site.
Some registered churches reported harassment by local authorities, including requiring, at times without clear legal justification, official documentation and rosters of church members and, in some cases, bribes to secure registration. Since secular businesses and nonreligious groups reported similar treatment, however, it was not possible to determine whether this treatment was due to religious affiliation.
In some areas, local authorities reportedly placed restrictions on minors’ participation in church activities. According to a representative of a Christian group, government officials restricted unaccompanied minors’ participation in a “Children’s Church” event due to fears it would be used to “brainwash” them. In Uvs and other provinces, minors under the age of 16 required written parental permission to participate in church activities.
Some Christian leaders also reported discrimination in education.
Religious groups continued to experience periodic audits, usually by officers from tax, immigration, local government, intelligence, and other agencies. In some cases, Christian groups reported they received audits less frequently compared to previous years and experienced no unannounced audits. Other Christian groups continued to receive unannounced inspections.
Foreign nationals faced difficulties obtaining religious visas, although some religious groups reported the situation had improved compared to previous years, attributing this to immigration officials viewing the groups’ social and charity 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 that they could not afford this cost. Christian groups reported that 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, they could legally participate only in limited religious activities and were vulnerable to deportation due to 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.
The government allocated funding for the restoration of several Buddhist sites that were important religious, historical, and cultural centers. The government did not provide similar subsidies to other religious groups.
The ethnic Kazakh community is majority Muslim, and there were two ethnic Kazakhs serving as members of parliament (MP). There was also one Christian MP. Other MPs were ethnic Mongolian and either Buddhist or without religious affiliation.