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Taiwan employer said to force Muslims to eat pork

Three Muslims from Indonesia were "distraught and afraid" after their boss at a suburban Taipei factory forced them to eat pork over a seven-month period or face punishment, a Taiwan rights group said Monday.

Taipei prosecutors on April 26 indicted Chang Wen-lin, the owner of Shin Hua Hang Fashion Co. Ltd., for forcing the three women to consume pork during their September 2008 to April 2009 employment. In their indictment the prosecutors said Chang believed that the meat "would give the women more stamina for work" and threatened to take money out of their salaries if they didn't eat it.

Islam forbids its adherents from consuming pork because it regards pigs as unclean.

Susan Chen of the Taiwan International Workers Association said her organization cared for the three women for three to four months beginning in April 2009 after they filed a complaint with Taipei county authorities and were removed from the factory by labor rights officials.

"They were distraught and afraid when they came to our shelter, partly because they thought they might be sent home," Chen said. "They still showed a lot of fear when they met their employer again for the first time after their rescue during a meeting to discuss employment disputes."

Chang did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

Chen identified the women as Tarsinah, Suswati and Wasilah. She said they are now working at new jobs in Taiwan and do not want to comment on the case because they fear it could endanger their employment.

Chen said Chang originally hired the women as caregivers, but that they were ordered to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in Chang's factory after they arrived in Taiwan. She said they were paid an average salary of New Taiwan dollars 1,370 ($42) per month — far less than the NT$17,000 minimum wage.

Taiwan now employs about 350,000 foreign laborers, many from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Most work as caregivers or as factory and construction laborers.

The U.S. State Department said in its 2009 Human Rights Report that abuse of foreign workers remains a serious problem in Taiwan. It said the workers are often reluctant to report employer abuse because they fear it could endanger their employment and compromise their efforts to pay back broker employment fees, which can amount to as much as $10,000.