Mongolia Religious Freedom Report 2010

Mongolia Religious Freedom Report 2010

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
International Religious Freedom Report 2010
November 17, 2010

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, the law limits proselytizing.

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period. Some religious groups faced bureaucratic harassment from local governments or were denied registration.

There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including pressure on persons who converted to Christianity.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 604,247 square miles and a population of 2.7 million. Buddhism is closely linked with the country's cultural traditions. When the government ended bans on all religious practices in 1990, Buddhist activity increased. Local scholars claimed that more than 90 percent of citizens subscribed to some form of Buddhism, although practice varies widely. Lamaist Buddhism of the Tibetan variety was the traditional and dominant religion.

Ethnic Kazakhs, most of whom are Muslim, are the largest ethnic minority. They constitute approximately 5 percent of the population nationwide and 80 percent of the population of the western province of Bayan-Olgiy. The Mongolian Muslim Association estimated that there are 120,000 Kazakh Muslims, and 30,000 Khoton Muslims, largely in the province of Uvs. Muslims operated more than 40 mosques and seven Islamic student centers, and there were an estimated 3,000 students of Islam. An Islamic cultural center and mosque was under construction in the capital of Ulaanbaatar. The mosques and Islamic centers received financial assistance from religious organizations in Kazakhstan, Turkey, and the Gulf States.

There is a small but growing number of Christians. Christian groups estimated more than 4 percent of the population practices Christianity, of which an estimated 90 percent are Protestant and 9 percent are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Roman Catholics and members of the Russian Orthodox Church together account for the remaining 1 percent. Some citizens practiced shamanism, often in tandem with another religion, but there were no reliable statistics on their number.

At the beginning of 2010, there were 511 registered places of worship, 254 of which were Buddhist, 198 Christian, 44 Muslim, seven shamanistic and five Baha'i, and three uncategorized. In the first half of 2010, the State General Registration Office registered 37 churches, 20 mosques, and three shaman temples. Evangelical Christians estimate there are 250 unregistered evangelical churches throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, the law limits proselytizing. Some religious groups seeking registration also faced burdensome bureaucratic requirements and significant delays. The constitution explicitly recognizes the separation of church and state.

Although there is no state religion, the Law on Religion and State asserts that the government shall
grant proper respect to Buddhism as the predominant religion of the country for the sake of national unity and the maintenance of cultural and historic traditions. 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.

Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with local and provincial authorities as well as the General Authority of State Registration (General Authority) to function legally. Because registrations were only valid for 12 months, religious institutions must renew their registrations annually with up to six different government institutions across local and national levels. The Ulaanbaatar City Representative Hural registered 25 religious organizations and extended the permits granted to 105 pre-existing religious organizations in Ulaanbaatar between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010.


Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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 that local officials indicated that there are "too many" churches or that there should at least be parity in the registration of new Buddhist temples and new Christian churches.


During the reporting period, the Immigration Agency did not report expelling any foreign religious workers. During the previous reporting period, 70 were reportedly expelled. In February 2009 Ulaanbaatar police detained a local lawyer who represented religious workers facing deportation for four hours. No charges were issued but, according to the lawyer, he was fined, given an administrative penalty, and warned not to represent foreign religious workers in the future. Immigration officials also tried unsuccessfully to revoke his law license and asked his employer to fire him. The lawyer appealed the police fine, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Nevertheless, the police have disregarded the Supreme Court's judgment.

Recently one orphanage run by an American non-profit organization was shut down through Mongolian court proceedings for allegedly violating prohibitions on promoting religions counter to the children's traditional national religion and other charges. The orphanage oversaw up to 29 children, who were allegedly raised by the director as Christian, with traditional Christian names. While the case is ongoing, the children have been removed from the orphanage's care and placed in other institutions.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice during the reporting period. On a number of occasions, Christian groups reported that foreign Christians in Ulaanbaatar were victims of assault or other crimes, although it was not clear whether the crimes were religiously motivated, directed at them for xenophobic reasons, or simply an every-day crime.

Some officials criticized instances of Christian charity work as the alleged use of material incentives to attract potential converts to their religion.

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