Kuwaiti court drops priest's prison sentence

KUWAIT - A Kuwaiti appeals court on Sunday dropped a 3-1/2-year prison sentence against a Kuwaiti priest found guilty in a case over a brawl in a local church, the defence said.

But the court upheld a 3-1/2 year prison sentence against the priest's brother, Nabil al-Gharib. The defence team later told Reuters it would appeal against that verdict in the country's Cassation Court.

The priest, Emmanuel Benjamen al-Gharib, and 11 others involved in the church brawl last year have each been fined 50 dinars ($163).

Emmanuel, 50, his brother and Ussama Emile Zakhri were given the jail sentences for injuring opponents to his appointment as the head of a Christian church in the conservative Muslim Gulf Arab state.

The naming of Emmanuel last January as pastor of the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait triggered uproar among supporters of the previous pastor, a Canadian priest of Egyptian origin, which led to fist fights and legal battles.

There are a handful of Christian families among the 825,000 Kuwaiti citizens.

But several churches of various denominations serve large congregations among the 1.4 million-strong foreign community in the oil-rich country.

Religious freedom in Kuwait has been praised in the past by some international groups and organisations. The Vatican has said Kuwait has a vibrant Roman Catholic community of some 100,000 people.