By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS and FANIS KARABATSAKIS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek cleaner jailed for 10 years for forging an elementary school certificate to get her state-paid job was freed Wednesday after a court ordered her temporary release on compassionate grounds.
The 53-year-old kindergarten cleaner’s punishment had been widely criticized as unduly strict, prompting Greece’s supreme court prosecutor to launch an investigation into the rationale for her initial conviction.
Her lawyer, Giorgos Sinelis, said the ruling by the court in the city of Larisa will allow her to stay out of prison pending a decision by the supreme court on her appeal against the conviction.
“I am confident that the supreme court will accept” the appeal, Sinelis said.
The woman, identified by Sinelis as Dimitra Tsiantaki, said her three-week incarceration had been a major shock.
“It will take me a little while to recover,” she told private broadcaster Skai TV.
The municipal employee quit elementary school after completing fifth grade. She obtained her civil service position in 1997, having submitted a forged certificate that she had finished sixth grade — the minimum education requirement for state-employed cleaners.
“She was a cleaner,” said Sinelis, the lawyer. “Therefore whether she finished fifth or sixth grade has nothing to do with whether she performed her job.”
She was initially sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, later reduced to 10 years.
Tsiantaki said in her TV interview that she had faked the certificate because she had been unemployed and needed work to prevent social services from taking away her two children — adding that she herself had grown up in an orphanage.
“I know what orphanages are like, and I didn’t want my children to go through what I went through,” she said. “We were nine brothers and sisters and my parents couldn’t bring us up.”
Tsiantaki said she had worked for 20 years as a municipally-employed cleaner, and was sacked after the forged certificate was discovered. She added that she has since completed her sixth-grade studies.
Critics of her incarceration included Greece’s governing left-wing Syriza party.
A prisoners’ rights group said the decision to jail her had been “legally and morally groundless.”
“(The conviction) highlights the persisting problems in Greece’s system of awarding so-called justice, which leads thousands of socially vulnerable people to prison with crushing convictions,” the Initiative for Prisoners’ Rights said.
Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this story.