China has harshly suppressed religious freedom in Tibet in recent years, imprisoning hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns and expelling hundreds of others from their monasteries, according to a report released today.

The 82-page report, published by the International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based human rights monitoring organization, finds that behind a facade of religious freedom, Communist Party officials limit the number of monks in each monastery in Tibet, control monastery finances and require Tibetans to get official permission before joining monasteries.

"The effect of these policies is that monks and lay Tibetans are prohibited from revitalizing the sacred traditions that would keep Tibetan Buddhism alive," the monitoring group said.

The Communist Party officially proclaims a policy of religious tolerance in Tibet. In contrast with the 1966-76 period of the Cultural Revolution, when any sign of religion was banned, the party now allows Tibetans to engage in some outward manifestations of their faith, such as praying at Buddhist temples.

But the report argues that this limited degree of freedom was granted more as a matter of public relations than out of respect for religion.

The report describes an underlying Communist Party strategy of attempting to control every aspect of monastery life and finances as well as religious education, thus discouraging the brightest students of Tibetan Buddhism from advancing.

Over the last three years, numerous demonstrations against Chinese rule have erupted in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, most of them led by monks or nuns. Policemen and troops have killed dozens of protesters.

The report, based partly on interviews with monks and nuns in Nepal and India who recently fled from Tibet, says that most of the demonstrators who have been detained or imprisoned have been tortured.

Many monks participating in demonstrations have been expelled from their monasteries or ordered not to return to them after being released from prison.

One source estimated that since 1987, some monasteries have lost up to 50 percent of their monks through expulsion, flight to neighboring India and imprisonment. It appears that many nunneries have been all but shut down by expulsions.

This spring the expulsions reached new levels, the report says.

Prior to the Chinese invasion of 1950, which resulted in Tibet's annexation by China, the vast, high-altitude Himalayan region was considered one of the most religious countries in the world. Tibetan Buddhism has a history of more than 2,000 years, and religion still permeates the lives of many Tibetans.

But during the 1950s and '60s, the Chinese occupation resulted in the destruction of more than 6,000 monasteries, temples and other structures. In 1959, the Dalai Lama, Tibet's temporal and spiritual leader, fled into exile into India.

The Chinese government contends that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, but Tibet has a distinctive language and culture and has been independent and isolated at many points in its history.