Two circus owners, who had previously been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for illegally transporting endangered animals, had their convictions overturned Friday, Beijing News reported.
After founding their circus in 2015, the two defendants, cousins Li Rongqing and Li Ruisheng, rented animals from other companies to give performances around China.
Prosecutors alleged that from late May to July 2016, the defendants had been transporting endangered animals from the city of Suzhou, Anhui Province, to Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province, without approval from authorities.
The animals involved in the case included a tiger, three lions, a black bear and a macaque.
Arrested by local police in July last year, the defendants were convicted in a district court in Shenyang on December 28, 2016.
The court gave Li Rongqing a 10-year sentence, and Li Ruisheng eight years.
The suspects were ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 yuan (about 15,000 USD) each.
The two lodged an appeal in January 2017.
On December 6, 2017, a second trial was held at the Intermediate People's Court in Shenyang.
According to modifications to China's Law on the Protection of Wildlife that came into effect before the second trial, transporting endangered animals which have been legally raised no longer requires permission from administrative authorities.
On December 8, 2017, the two men's convictions were overturned, and the court ordered their release.
Li Rongqing told journalists with thepaper.cn that he is preparing to reopen his circus which has been closed since the initial conviction.
He also plans to file for compensation from the state.