ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A prominent Greek stage actor and director was convicted of the rape of two men when they were minors and a court sentenced him to 12 years in prison. He has been released pending appeal.

The decision to release Dimitris Lignadis, 57, was greeted by shouts of disbelief by many people that had crowded inside the small Athens courtroom and spilled outside.

The presiding judge had to call on police to clear the room of protesters. The defendant was escorted out of the court via a back door.

The court has barred Lignadis from leaving the country. He also has to report to the police precinct closest to his residence every first and 10th of each month and a post 30,000-euro bond by July 29.

The appeals process could be a lengthy one and Greece’s justice system is notorious for its delays. When arguing for his client’s release pending appeal, Lignadis’ lawyer, Alexis Kougias, told the court that it could take three to four years for an appeals verdict to be reached and urged the three judges and four jurors not to “destroy” his client’s life.

The prosecutor had argued against release, saying that Lignadis hadn’t acknowledged his crimes and that he could commit more as a result.

Earlier Wednesday, Lignadis had been found guilty in two out of four cases of rape.

Lignadis was acquitted for insufficient evidence in a third case, while the fourth accuser never appeared in court to testify, despite a court decision ordering him to. He had provided a false address.

The two rapes Lignadis was convicted of occurred in 2010 and 2015.

The court rejected Lignadis’ lawyer’s plea for mitigating circumstances.

The prosecutor had called for a 12-year sentence for each of the two rapes. The judges and jury decided to sentence him to 10 years in one case and five in the other, with part of the sentences served concurrently, for a total prison term of 12 years.

In Greek criminal courts, the judges and jurors vote together both on guilt, sentencing, any mitigating circumstances and on release before appeal, with their votes having equal weight. The release pending qppeal was granted in a 4-3 vote.

The appeal will be heard by a five-judge court.

Lignadis had been ordered jailed when the accusations surfaced in February 2021. A few days earlier, he had resigned from his post of artistic director of Greece’s National Theater which he had held since 2019.