RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has executed four men for possession of hashish, domestic media reported, taking to 17 the number of people put to death in the conservative Islamic kingdom in two weeks and prompting disquiet from international rights groups.
Saudi Arabia's Sharia Islamic legal code is not codified and gives extensive powers to individual judges to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of Muslim law.
Activists say the system means similar punishments can result in very different sentences. Judges can also prevent defendants from having access to lawyers and can close their courtrooms to outside scrutiny.
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, who were executed on Monday, were from Najran on the kingdom's southern border with Yemen, official media reported.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the men were two sets of brothers from the same extended family and that the confessions their sentence was based on may have been obtained through torture.
It said the offense 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.
Last year the kingdom executed 79 people, mainly by beheading. Diplomats say a rise in the number of executions in recent years might be a result of more judges being appointed in Saudi Arabia, meaning cases are 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 Clarence Fernandez)