Dubai: Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide.
Coinciding with the rise in executions is the number of people executed for non-lethal offenses that judges have wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes.
Rights group Amnesty International said in November that at least 63 people had been executed since the start of the year for drug-related offenses.
That figure made for at least 40 per cent of the total number of executions in 2015, compared to less than four percent for drug-related executions in 2010.
Amnesty said Saudi Arabia had exceeded its highest level of executions since 1995, when 192 executions were recorded.
But while some crimes, such as premeditated murder, may carry fixed punishments under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of the Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offenses are considered "ta'zir", meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam.
Discretionary judgments for "ta'zir" crimes have led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes.