LONDON - An investigative tribunal has said that forced harvesting of organs for transplant continues in China, with religious minorities especially targeted.

“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale,” the China Tribunal said in its final judgement, issued June 17 in London.

Such a practice is “of unmatched wickedness — on a death for death basis — with the killings by mass crimes committed in the last century,” said the final report of the China Tribunal, NBC News reports.

The Chinese government has previously rejected claims about forced organ harvesting as rumors.

The China Tribunal is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice. The tribunal, reportedly independent, was launched by the Australia-based International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, which describes itself as a human rights group focused on forced organ trafficking.

After concluding its hearings, the tribunal said that it had unanimously determined that it was certain that Falun Gong is “a source--probably the principal source--of organs for forced organ harvesting,” the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

Falun Gong attracted tens of millions of followers to their practices of meditation, reflection on its texts and following its virtues to achieve enlightenment and salvation. The group began to suffer persecution in China in 1999 after Chinese leaders began to perceive it as a threat to the communist country.

The tribunal evidence came from medical experts, human rights investigators, and other sources. The tribunal cited extremely low wait times for organ transplant in Chinese hospitals, as little as a couple of weeks. In the past, investigators who called hospitals in China to inquire about patient transplants were told that the source of some organs was Falun Gong adherents.

The tribunal estimated that there are as many as 90,000 organ transplant operations taking place in China, which is much higher than official statistics. There is numerical evidence that it is impossible for there to be “sufficient donors” under China’s voluntary donor scheme, the tribunal concluded.

“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilizations known to modern man,” said the tribunal.

The Chinese government did not take part in the hearings and has strongly denied the claims it forces organ harvesting.

Earlier this year the Chinese embassy to the U.K. told The Guardian that the Chinese government “always follows the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on human organ transplant, and has strengthened its management on organ transplant in recent years.”

It cited the Chinese state council’s March 21, 2007 enactment of a regulation on human organ transplant requiring human organ donation be done voluntarily and without charge.

“We hope that the British people will not be misled by rumors,” the embassy said.

In 2014 China announced that it would stop its practice of removing organs from executed prisoners. It has contended the claims about coercive organ harvesting are political motivated.

Nice rejected the claims about prisoners, saying, “there is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

In a statement released alongside the final judgement, the tribunal cited a witness, Dr. Enver Tohti, who said that as a surgeon in China he had been required to perform organ extractions. He recounted one instance in which he removed an organ from a living patient, who bled upon being cut and tried to resist but was too weak.

While the report considered the treatment of Falun Gong, the tribunal found less evidence concerning the treatment of other religious and ethnic minorities like Tibetans, Uughur Muslims and Christians.

Former inmates from both Falun Gong and Uyghur backgrounds have said they repeatedly underwent medical testing while in jail.

Most of the evidence given to the tribunal has dated since the year 2000, though the tribunal considered reports about kidneys harvested from executed prisoners as far back as the 1970s.

Over 40 U.K. MPs from all parties have backed a proposed ban on patients travelling to China for organ transplants. Such travel bans are in force in Israel, Italy, Spain and Taiwan.

Falun Gong practitioners are detained in the thousands, with some tortured. The group has estimated that at least 69 practitioners have died in custody or due to injuries sustained in custody in China 2018. Some practitioners appear to be missing.

In a March 8 speech in Hong Kong, Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom cited allegations that the Chinese government forcibly harvests organs from people imprisoned due to their religious practice, including in the case of Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs.

His speech drew a response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which called it a “malicious attack and slander on China’s religious policies.”

China’s treatment of Uyghurs also drew criticism from Brownback, who said Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained Muslim minorities in internment camps. Travel is restricted, and parents are not allowed to give their children common Muslim names.

The ambassador rejected Chinese government claims that the camps are vocational training centers, charging that they are “internment camps created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.”