Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced laws passed in Russia as an “attack on the rights of citizens”. In an interview with the BBC he called on President Vladimir Putin “not to be afraid of his own people”. Mr Gorbachev also criticised Mr Putin’s inner circle, saying it was full of “thieves and corrupt officials”. The laws include fines for organising unsanctioned protests, stiffer libel penalties, a wider definition of treason and restrictions on websites.In January, Human Rights Watch accused President Putin of unleashing “the worst political crackdown in Russia’s post-Soviet history” since returning to the Kremlin for a third term in May 2012. The group also said he had overseen “the swift reversal of former President Dmitry Medvedev’s few, timid advances on political freedoms”. A number of opposition leaders have been arrested since anti-government protests began to be staged in Moscow and other big cities following disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011. Mr Gorbachev, who is 82 and in poor health, is still determined to speak his mind about what is happening in his country. He said he was “astonished” by the number of controversial laws passed in Russia since Mr Putin’s return to the presidency.