Ayub Masih was arrested for blasphemy on October 14, 1996 in his village, Arifabad in Sahiwal District (about 700km from Islamabad) on a complaint filed by a Muslim neighbour Muhammed Akram. Akram alleged he heard Ayub saying "If we want to know the truth about Islam read Salman Rushdie". He was found guilty and given a death sentence on April 27 1998. Shortly afterwards, on May 6, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, John Joseph, who was trying to have the blasphemy law abolished, committed suicide by shooting himself on the steps of Sahiwal Law Court in an extreme act of protest.
On May 10, following Bishop Joseph's burial, Muslim extremists rampaged through a Christian neighborhood in Faisalabad, attacking and burning a number of homes and shops; dozens were left homeless.To assuage public anger, the local authorities razed 70 houses occupied by Christian families.
On May 12 1998 , in the wake of the Muslim-Christian clashes, a two-judge panel of the Lahore High Court suspended Ayub Massih's death sentence
At the time there some modest press comment outside Pakistan.
With pressure on the Pakistanis growing, the Government accelerated the date of the hearing before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On August 15, 2002, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court sitting in Islamabad heard arguments on the long-awaited final appeal.