Saudi Arabia has executed 88 people already this year – surpassing the total for all of 2014, according to media calculations based on official reports.
The escalation in the number of executions comes amid activists’ concerns that trials are not being conducted fairly.
However, Amnesty International says at least 90 people were executed in the conservative Islamic kingdom last year, while newswire AFP says it was 87.
Saudi Arabia was among the top five worst countries for executions in 2014, according to Amnesty International.
Saudi authorities have defended their use of the death penalty as acts of justice carried out in line with Islamic traditions and religious law, known as Shariah law, and only after the strictest fair trial standards are upheld.
However, Amnesty International says in a statement dated February 17, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court confirmed that sentences, including death sentences where the punishment is left to the judge’s discretion (a category that includes drug-related offences), can be handed down even if it cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the suspect committed a crime.
“Suspicion, it seems, is enough for a judge to order putting an end to someone’s life,” the organisation said.
Half of the announced executions in 2014, and so far in 2015, have been for non-lethal offences, including being related to drugs, acts of “sorcery” and “witchcraft”, which are not recognised as criminal offences under international human rights law.
Most recently, three Saudi men were executed this week, including two convicted of smuggling amphetamines and one convicted of murder, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday, according to state media.
With the number of beheadings soaring, the civil service this month advertised for eight new “executors of retribution”.
There has been no public comment from authorities to explain the rise in executions.
However, Ali Adubisi, director of the Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, told The Guardian poverty could be leading to a rise in drug crimes, which account for majority of the crimes for which people have been put to death.
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