One death every two days. That’s the current execution rate in Saudi Arabia, according to a report from Amnesty International published on Tuesday.
The Kingdom has killed 175 people in the past 12 months, with the document, “Killing In the Name of Justice: The Death Penalty in Saudi Arabia," detailing how the state had put at least 2,208 to death between January 1985 and June 2015.
Nearly half of that 2,208 were foreign nationals, many of whom lacked the Arabic skills to understand court proceedings and charges, the report said. Almost a third of those executed were for drug-related offenses.
The execution rate has surged under new King Salman
The kingdom follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law and applies the death penalty to a number of crimes including murder, rape and drug smuggling. Though not as common, Saudi Courts allow for people to be executed for adultery, apostasy and witchcraft.
People can also be executed for crimes committed when they were below 18 years of age. The state even puts to death the mentally disabled. "Saudi Arabia's faulty justice system facilitates judicial executions on a mass scale," said Boumedouha, acting director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement.
In one case highlighted in the report, two sets of brothers from the same extended family were executed in August 2014 in the southern city of Najran after being convicted of receiving large quantities of hashish. Amnesty said the men claimed they were tortured during interrogation and sentenced to death largely based on confessions made after being beaten and deprived of sleep.
Amnesty said it reached out to the Saudi Interior and Justice ministries, but received no reply. Most executions are carried out by beheading, though some are also done by firing squad. In rare cases, executed bodies have been displayed in public to deter others from committing crime.
Islamic law as practiced in Saudi Arabia allows for retribution in some cases, whereby relatives of the murder victim have the right to decide if the offender should be executed or pardoned. If pardoned, compensation or "blood money" is often paid to the family. In one case reported in Saudi media in 2012, a father pardoned his son's killer on condition he memorise the Quran before leaving prison.
The rights group said Saudi authorities have denied its researchers access to the country. The London-based rights group said it researched cases for this report by contacting people before their execution and reaching out to relatives and lawyers, in addition to analysing available court documents.
For comparison, the US has executed 17 people this year. In 2014, 35 people across America were put to death. The last executions in Britain were two convicted murderers, hanged at separate prisons on 13 August 1964.