More than two dozen countries around the world punish drug possession and sale with a death sentence. Among them, Saudi Arabia has some of the harshest laws against cannabis.
Those laws caught up with four members of the same extended family, executed Wednesday for drugs possession, including large quantities of hashish.
Hashish is a concentrated form of cannabis made from compressed trichomes.
While Saudi Arabia did not disclose the amount of hashish recovered, officials announced this week that four men were beheaded by sword in the city of Najran.
The execution of drug offenders throughout the world appears to be on the rise, although hard statistics are often difficult to collect.
In the case of the four men executed Wednesday, evidence against them was reportedly extracted from confessions given under torture, Amnesty International said.
They were reportedly tortured during interrogation, including with beatings and sleep deprivation, in order to extract false confessions.
There had been a “disturbing” surge in the use of the death penalty in the Saudi kingdom, the human rights group added.
In 2013, the Saudi authorities executed at least 79 people, three of whom were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were condemned.
The case against the four beheaded brothers — Hadi al-Mutlaq, Awad al-Mutlaq, Mufrih al-Yami and Ali al-Yami — goes back to 2007, when they were first arrested and detained by the interior ministry’s General Directorate of Investigations. They have since been detailed on several occasions for the alleged offense.
When the men’s families reached out to Amnesty International out of fear that a beheading would be immanent, the interior ministry officials warned the family to stop contacting the group.
“This apparent intimidation and surveillance of victims of human rights violations and activists adds another sinister layer to Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme deputy director Said Boumedouha.
“It is clear evidence that the authorities are willing to go to extreme lengths to prevent reports of gross human rights violations in the country from reaching the outside world.”