Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people in the past four months, half of them on non-violent drug charges, Human Rights Watch has said.
The US-based group urged the kingdom to improve what it called a “notoriously unfair criminal justice system”.
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest rates of execution: suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty.
Rights experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, which is governed by a strict form of Islamic law. The government says the death penalty is a deterrent for further crime.
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Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said: “It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia executes so many people, but many of them have not committed a violent crime. Any plan to limit drug executions needs to include improvements to a justice system that doesn’t provide for fair trials.”
HRW said Saudi Arabia had carried out nearly 600 executions since the beginning of 2014, more than a third of them in drug cases. Nearly 150 people were put to death last year in the kingdom, where convicts are beheaded using a sword.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to the throne, suggested in a Time magazine interview this month that Saudi Arabia would consider changing the penalty in certain cases except murder from death to life in prison.
The prince is trying to soften his country’s image as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy and attract international investors.