Zimbabwe’s president has lambasted a pastor behind the #ThisFlag social media campaign that denounces the government’s management of the economy.
Robert Mugabe said that Evan Mawarire was not a true preacher and accused him of being sponsored by foreign countries bent on destabilising Zimbabwe.
The pastor backed a stay-at-home strike earlier this month, one of the largest anti-government protests in years.
He was arrested last week, but released when a court threw out the charges.
His lawyers successfully argued that the charge of subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 year, had been added at the last minute, denying him a fair trial.
Mr Mawarire was first charged with inciting public violence despite the fact that he has called on Zimbabweans to take a peaceful stand against unemployment and corruption and avoided directly criticising the president.
The BBC’s Brian Hungwe in the capital, Harare, says Mr Mugabe was in his usual no-nonsense mood when he attacked his new-found nemesis.
In his first comments about the #ThisFlag movement that began several months ago, he said that if people like Mr Mawarire did not like living in Zimbabwe, they should go to “the countries of those who are sponsoring them”.
“A man of religion will speak the biblical truth. 1 Corinthians what does it say? Love one another,” the president said during his address to thousands of mourners at the funeral of Charles Utete, the country’s first black cabinet secretary.
“So beware these men of cloth, not all of them are true preachers of the Bible.”
To reiterate his point, the 92-year-old president said he was not sure which God such charlatans served.
“I don’t know whether they are serving God… we spell God double G.O.D, they spell God in reverse,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
The pastor is currently in South Africa, but has denied reports that he fled to seek asylum, the Associated Press news agency reports.
Mr Mawarire has struck a chord with many Zimbabweans through his campaign, organised via Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, our reporter says.
Its success is not surprising given the mood of despair and anger over alleged government corruption, the chronic shortage of money and the heavy police presence on streets, he says.