Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef received France's highest national award while on an official visit to Paris over the weekend in a discreet ceremony that has nonetheless raised an outcry.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was given the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande in recognition of "his great efforts in the region and world for combating extremism and terrorism," according to the Saudi state news agency SPA .

Hollande's office did not publish a statement about the meeting, and a senior aide downplayed the event, telling AFP that Bin Nayef received the honor as a "foreign individual, a common protocol practice."

But if Hollande's office was hoping to avoid any controversy over its close relations with Saudi Arabia, which is a major customer for French military equipment, it failed.

Human rights advocates were quick to criticize France for honoring Bin Nayef, who is also the Saudi interior minister.

Much of the criticism revolved around Saudi Arabia's prolific use of the death penalty.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia executed its 70th person this year – an average of more than one person a day, according to AFP.

The French hashtag #honte (shame) is trending on Twitter.

The National Order of the Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, a tyrant who led France through a series of destabilizing wars that left millions dead across Europe before he was exiled.