Three people were beheaded in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday after being convicted of smuggling amphetamines and hashish into the kingdom, according to a statement published on the SPA state news agency. The executed men were Yemeni national Hammud Hajuri, Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani and Syrian citizen Fadi Abdulrazzaq.

Wednesday’s executions brings the total to 44 so far this year, nearly half of which have been for drug-related offenses, according to Amnesty International. Many of the executions take place in public squares in various cities across the country; passersby are encouraged to watch.

"This unprecedented spike in executions constitutes a chilling race to the bottom for a country that is already among the most prolific executioners on the planet," Said Boumedouha, deputy regional director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

The kingdom’s judicial system is based on Islamic law and Saudi Arabia does not use an independent penal code. Under Sharia law in Saudi, three categories of crimes can result in the death penalty: acts explicitly labelled criminal in the Quran, retaliatory punishment, and the third category is open to any act the Saudi government has deemed criminal. Drug trafficking falls into the third category. Rape, murder and armed robbery are also punishable by death.

The House of Saud has repeatedly claimed that execution sentences are handed down only for the most severe crimes, but an earlier report from the human rights organization claimed that some people were sentenced to death for crimes such as adultery, apostasy and “witchcraft.”

“Trials in capital cases are often held in secret and defendants rarely have access to lawyers,” the Amnesty International report said. “People may be convicted solely on the basis of 'confessions' obtained under torture, other ill-treatment or deception.”

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized by international human rights organizations and activists for its record on human rights.