This file photo taken on January 14, 2016 shows Freddy Lim (R), a candidate from the New Power Party and singer of ChthoniC - one of Asia's biggest death metal bands - attending an election rally in Taipei. A popular Taiwan heavy metal band which advocates independence for the island announced on December 22, 2018 it had been forced to cancel a gig in Hong Kong after city authorities dragged their feet on granting them a visa. (AFP/Philippe Lopez)
The frontman of a popular Taiwanese metal band which advocates independence for the island was denied a visa to Hong Kong because he lacked "special skills", a music festival organizer said Monday.
ChthoniC, one of Asia's most successful black metal bands, slammed the decision as "ridiculous" after they were forced to pull out of a music festival in the southern Chinese city over the weekend because band members were unable to get a visa from Hong Kong's immigration department.
Frontman Freddy Lim is also a pro-independence lawmaker in Taiwan and the cancellation fuelled fears about eroding artistic freedoms in Hong Kong as authorities clamp down on pro-democracy sentiment at the behest of Beijing.
Hong Kong's immigration authorities have yet to say why the visas were refused.
But on Monday Denise Ho, a pro-democracy canto-pop star who had invited ChthoniC to perform at a festival, posted a letter from the immigration department setting out the reasons for Lim's refusal.
"A person seeking to enter into Hong Kong ... for employment should amongst other things, possess a special skill, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in the (city)," the letter stated.
"Having considered the information made available and all circumstances of the case, we are not satisfied that this case meets the aforesaid criteria," it added.
Lim called the government's reason "ridiculous" but added he remained hopeful.
"I have many friends in Hong Kong, friends from the music scene, friends who are involved in Hong Kong's social movement, and everyone is trying so hard to change things," Lim told AFP.
The immigration department did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.
ChthoniC was founded in 1995 by Lim and has gone on to become one of the region's most successful metal bands.
Lim became a lawmaker in 2016 and his New Power Party calls for Taiwan to be recognised internationally as a country. He was denied a travel visa to Hong Kong later that year.
Netizens in Hong Kong, where authorities have been steadily clamping down on the city's pro-independence sentiments, ridiculed the government’s apparent excuse.
"That means Madonna wouldn't be qualified to do a concert in Hong Kong either," wrote one Facebook user.
"The song he sings, only he can sing it. How is that not a special skill?" commented another.
Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.
In recent years, concern has also grown in Hong Kong about its freedoms disappearing as China tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
A senior Financial Times journalist's visa renewal was rejected earlier this year after he hosted a speech at Hong Kong's press club by Andy Chan, the leader of a tiny pro-independence political party. Authorities did not provide an explanation for the rejection.