RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia executed four men for possession of hashish on Monday and another man for murder on Tuesday, local media reported, taking to 18 the number of people it has put to death in two weeks, prompting alarm from rights groups.
Saudi Arabia's Sharia Islamic legal code gives extensive powers to individual judges to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of Muslim law.
Critics say that means very different sentences can be handed out for similar crimes. Judges can also prevent defendants from having access to lawyers and can close their courtrooms to outside scrutiny.
Wael bin Saad bin Ali al-Shehri was executed in the southern Asir Province on Tuesday for shooting and killing a man in an argument, Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an Interior Ministry statement.
The four men executed for hashish possession were from Najran on the kingdom's southern border with Yemen, official media reported, naming them as Hadi bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, Mufreh bin Jaber Zayed al-Yami, Ali bin Jaber Zayed al-Yami and Awadh bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International said those four men were two sets of brothers from the same extended family and that their confessions may have been obtained through torture.
It said the offence had taken place in 2007 and members of the family had later been warned by the government not to contact Amnesty.
Saudi Arabia denies it practices torture.
Media did not disclose the means of execution in either case. Most executions in Saudi Arabia are beheadings but last year a group of men were shot by firing squad.
Last year Saudi Arabia executed 79 people. Diplomats say a rise in the number of executions in recent years might be a result of more judges being appointed, meaning a backlog of cases is being handled more quickly.
King Abdullah ordered a series of legal reforms in 2007 that were partly aimed at making the justice system more transparent and predictable, but they have only been introduced slowly.
Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy