The decision of Pope Francis to greet Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe at the pontiff’s inauguration mass has been met with condemnation from human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Mugabe, 89, a Catholic, is subject to an EU travel ban, but Italy allowed the notorious anti-gay leader, who is accused of violating international human rights laws, to visit the Vatican as a guest of the new Pope on Tuesday.

Peter Tatchell has twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of the Zimbabwean leader on charges of torture and was beaten unconscious by President Mugabe’s bodyguards, resulting in brain and eye injuries in 2001. He said: “President Mugabe should have never been invited in the first place.

“His regime has abused the Christian values of love and compassion. It stands accused of kidnapping, detention without trial, torture, rape and murder.

“President Mugabe belongs in the dock at the International Criminal Court, not in the Vatican being feted by the Pope.

“It is outrageous that the Italian Government is not enforcing the EU travel ban on Mugabe.”

Mugabe has previously referred to gay people as being “worse than dogs and pigs.”

In 2005, Prince Charles drew controversy in Britain when he shook hands with him at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Mr Tatchell added: “As well as his general human rights abuses, President Mugabe has incited homophobia, with repeated denunciations and threats against LGBT Zimbabweans”.

Earlier this month, Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister was criticised by gay rights campaigners in the country for denouncing homosexuality and reportedly saying marriage “should be between a man and a woman.”