Zimbabwe President Mugabe attacks #thisflag protest leader Pastor Evan Mawarire

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has attacked the pastor behind the #ThisFlag mass protest movement that has heavily criticised his government.

Zimbabwe's 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe savaged the pastor who is leading the country's largest protest movement in yearsReuters

Pastor Evan Mawarire was accused of being sponsored by foreign countries who wanted to topple Mugabe from power and of being a false preacher. The #ThisFlag social media campaign was sparked by Mawarire and has become one of Zimbabwe's largest anti-government protests in years.

A stay-at-home strike earlier this month was backed by Mawarire and he was subsequently arrested and charged with subversion. But he was released to the cheers of hundreds gathered at the court after his lawyers successfully argued that the accusation had been added at the last minute and so did not give him a fair trial.

He was initially charged with inciting violence although he has repeatedly called for a peaceful protest against unemployment and corruption and avoided criticising the president directly.

Mugabe's remarks on Tuesday were the first time he has mentioned the pastor by name and he said if people like Mawarire were unhappy with life in Zimbabwe they should move to "the countries of those of who are sponsoring them".

The 92-year-old president was speaking at the burial of Zimbabwe's first black chief secretary to the Cabinet and president after British colonial rule. As well as telling Mawarire to leave the country, he also questioned whether he was a true preacher.

"A man of religion will speak the biblical truth. 1 Corinthians what does it say? Love one another," said Mugabe.

"So beware these men of cloth, not all of them are true preachers of the Bible. I don't know whether they are serving God. They spell God in reverse," the president said.

"The Mawarires and those who believe in that way of living in our country, well, they are not part of us in thinking. They are not part of us as we try to live together," he said, to applause from supporters.

The pastor, who has been hailed as a national hero, is currently in South Africa but has denied reports he has fled, according to the Associated Press agency.