Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Amnesty International, said Wang’s sentence would “have a chilling effect on other house churches in China.”
“The message is very clear — you will be the next Wang Yi if you don’t register and follow the Communist Party’s line on religion,” Poon told AFP.
Wang’s church was among a number of prominent “underground” churches shut down by the government in 2018 as part of a crackdown on religion, especially on followers of Islam and Christianity.
Beijing-based Zion Church, one of China’s largest “underground” Protestant churches, was banned by city authorities in September 2018 for operating without a licence after dozens of officials stormed its premises.
Earlier that year, unauthorized versions of the Bible were pulled from Chinese online retailers.
In November, politburo standing committee member Wang Yang said at a forum that Beijing should even alter religious scripture to fix “contents not in line with the progress of the times.”
Reinterpreting religious doctrines would show “religious circles’ responsibility for their own beliefs” and was in line with the “Sinicisation and modernization of religions,” Wang said.
He said Beijing should “effectively resist the erosion by extremist thoughts and heresies” by making its own re-evaluation of religious texts.
China has faced international condemnation for rounding up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
An AFP investigation found in October that China’s efforts to erase minorities’ religious identity in Xinjiang have included the destruction of burial grounds where generations of Uighur families were laid to rest.
Beijing has sought to portray its crackdown in Xinjiang as a program to combat extremism and terrorism.