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Ex-Pussy Riot members Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina appear at Amnesty International concert in Brooklyn

on February 06, 2014, 9:47am

On Wednesday night,  Amnesty International held their first “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The star-studded bill was headlined by The Flaming Lips with Yoko OnoTegan and SaraBob GeldofLauryn Hill, and many more. Between each act, survivors of human rights injustices took the stage to share their stories and call for action from the attendees. Amongst those survivors were the concert’s guests of honor: recently freed Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina.

Update: Mere hours before last night’s concert, Pussy Riot issued a letter saying that Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were no longer members of the collective.

The women were introduced by a video featuring Russian nesting dolls, designed to look like abused women and silenced press members, along with the slogan “We must not let Russian charm hide their atrocities.” Madonna then took the stage and recounted how she was touring Russia back when the activists were arrested for their “A Punk Prayer” performance in a Moscow church. She reminded the crowd that while Americans have the right to speak out against elected leaders and their policies, the members of Pussy Riot live in a country without such freedoms. “It’s time for the rest of the world to be as brave as Pussy Riot,” she said, “and stand up to repression.”

With that, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina appeared, along with their translator, to deafening applause. They began by thanking their supporters, specifically those who sent letters during their imprisonment (“Those letters helped us to stay alive”), and Amnesty International for “fighting for freedom all over the world.”  The women spent most of their time on stage speaking about the protesters incarcerated following the May 6th, 2012 human rights rally in Moscow. “You gave your voices to us,” they said through their translator, “and now it’s our duty to give voice to those still in the dark.”

Those arrested during the May 6th rally had their final day in court on Wednesday and Pussy Riot said they felt compelled to bring their words to Barclays. “This is our last chance to say something to them before they are sent to jail for five to six years.” With anger and sadness burning in their voices, and Tolokonnikova pacing the stage in a reserved fury, they quoted several of the May 6th protesters’ court statements.

“People had to protect themselves from fascists in police uniforms,” they quoted. “They’re taking revenge on us because we were there and we saw what happened,” said another. “I came to the square to take a stand. I want to live in a country where human rights [are respected].” Their final quote was perhaps most poignant, and received extended applause from the crowd: “The truth will always win, even if it dies in the battle.”

“These people spoke these words in a quiet courtroom,” Tolokonnikova explained. “They don’t know we are bringing them to the world.” Added Alekhina, “We want to live in a world with a free Russia, a Russia without Putin.” The members of Pussy Riot closed their fiery presentation by leading the crowd in a rousing chant of “Russia will be free!”

Watch a brief video of their appearance below:

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