The Saudi Arabian authorities must halt all executions, Amnesty International said after four members of the same family were executed today as part of a “disturbing” recent surge in the use of the death penalty in the country. The two sets of brothers from the same extended family were killed this morning in the south-eastern city of Najran after being convicted of “receiving large quantities of hashish”, reportedly on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture. It brings the number of state killings in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks to 17 – a rate of more than one execution per day. “The recent increase in executions in Saudi Arabia is a deeply disturbing deterioration. The authorities must act immediately to halt this cruel practice,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.“The death penalty is always wrong, and it is against international law to use it in cases involving non-lethal crimes and where evidence used to convict the person is based on ‘confessions’ extracted as a result of torture.” The four relatives were put to death despite desperate last-minute efforts from family members to alert the world to their plight. Relatives of the men contacted Amnesty International on Thursday asking for help amid fears that the executions were imminent. The organization’s Saudi Arabia team responded seeking further information on the case, but within hours the team was informed that the family of the four men had received a phone call from Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior officials warning them to stop contacting Amnesty International.This morning, it was officially announced that the four men had been executed.“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. 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,” said Said Boumedouha. “The family in this case deserves full disclosure as to why their loved ones’ allegations of torture were not investigated.” The four executed men – brothers Hadi bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq and Awad bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq along with brothers Mufrih bin Jaber Zayd al-Yami and Ali bin Jaber Zayd al-Yami – were arrested and detained by members of the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Investigations (known as al-Mabahith) on several occasions after their alleged offence in 2007.They were reportedly tortured during interrogation, including with beatings and sleep deprivation, in order to extract false confessions. They were referred to trial and sentenced to death largely on the basis of these ‘confessions’.There has been a surge in executions in Saudi Arabia since the end of Ramadan on 28 July, with 17 announced executions between 4 August and 18 August, compared to 17 confirmed executions between January and July 2014. BackgroundSaudi Arabia is one of the top executioners in the world, with more than 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2013. In 2013, it executed at least 79 people, three of whom were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were put to death, in blatant violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So far in 2014, at least 34 people have been executed.Court proceedings in Saudi Arabia fall far short of international standards for fair trial. Trials in capital cases are often held in secret. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them.They may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture, other ill-treatment or deception. In some cases condemned prisoners’ families are not notified in advance of their execution.Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty to a wide range of offences that are not accepted as “most serious crimes” under international law and standards on the use of the death penalty. These include “adultery”, armed robbery, “apostasy”, drug-related offences, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery”. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.