A group of Tibetan monks shouted in tears over the lack of religious freedom in their nation as foreign reporters passed by on an official tour of Tibet's capital Wednesday.
Shattering China's carefully orchestrated plan to show Lhasa was at peace after the recent deadly anti-China riots, the monks interrupted the government-approved reporters' tour of Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet's holiest shrines – claiming that Tibet is not free and that the Chinese government was lying about the real situation in Tibet.
One monk said that some of the monks in the temple talking to journalists were "not true believers but …Communist Party members," according to The Associated Press, whose reporter was among those on the tour.
"They are all officials, they (the government) arranged for them to come in. And we aren't allowed to go out because they say we could destroy things but we never did anything," another monk said.
The group of some 30 monks also denied China's accusation that the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and secular leader of Tibet, was the mastermind behind recent protests and riots.
Earlier this month, a large anti-government protest fired up in Lhasa, marking the worst anti-China demonstration in nearly two decades. The protest in Lhasa sparked demonstrations in Tibetan areas across western China.
The Chinese government has claimed a death toll of only 22 after the demonstrations, but Tibetan exiles say the violence has left nearly 140 people dead, according to AP.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, following the disruption by the monks, insisted that Tibetans have full rights. Since foreign reporters are rarely allowed into Tibet, the media tour is largely viewed as a publicity stunt by China to quell bad feelings ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.
The international community has widely condemned China's suppression of free speech and several European leaders have vowed to boycott the Olympics.
Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama has been seeking a direct dialogue with China, saying that he does not seek for Tibet to be separate but only autonomous.
U.S. President Bush spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao Thursday and encouraged the Chinese government to hold direct talks with the Dalai Lama.
In the telephone call, Bush "pushed very hard" about violence in Tibet and used the call to "speak very clearly and frankly," the White House said Thursday, according to AP.
While also rebuking China for its treatment of Tibetans, Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of the Christian ministry Open Doors USA, said one day prior that there is an equally urgent need to address the issue of religious freedom and persecution.
"[I]t is important when we consider larger questions on human rights and issues of political freedom that we also deal with Christian persecution and religious freedom issues that must be addressed in the same context," Moeller told The Christian Post.
"China has been treating its unregistered Christian population harshly in many corners of the country for decades," he said as an example.
China is ranked the No. 10 worst persecutor of Christians on Open Doors' 2008 World Watch List.