From the Associated Press...
Madonna and Pussy Riot shared the stage and spoke with passion about human rights issues at the Amnesty International Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn last night.
Madonna told the crowd of thousands that she received death threats for standing up for Pussy Riot, the Russian protest punk band, when two of its members were arrested for hooliganism after staging a protest in a Russian church in 2012.
"The right to be free, to speak our minds, to have an opinion, to love who we want to love, to be who we are - do we have to fight for that?" she said, answering her own question with an expletive.
"I've always considered myself a freedom fighter since the early '80s when I realized I had a voice and I could sing more than songs about being a material girl or feeling like a virgin. And I have definitely paid for and have been punished for speaking my mind and for sticking my neck out for this kind of discrimination. But that's OK."
Madonna introduced Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were released from prison in December and made their first public appearance in the U.S. on Tuesday.
They spoke through a translator at the "Bringing Human Rights Home" concert, telling the audience they were grateful to be free, but have to continue to fight to save others who are imprisoned.
Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, who wore T-shirts featuring cross designs Wednesday, thanked supporters for sending letters while they were in jail and Amnesty International for its mission to protect human rights.
"Thank you to all of those who are bold enough and who care enough to speak out against injustice and speak the truth," Alekhina said.
The Moscow-based group, which features nearly a dozen female musicians, has been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and political conditions in their homeland.
"Russia will be free!" they yelled along with the crowd before they exited the stage.
Amnesty International's "Bringing Human Rights Home" included performances from Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono, Imagine Dragons, Lauryn Hill, Blondie, Cake, the Fray, Bob Geldof, Tegan and Sara, Colbie Caillat and Cold War Kids. It is the organization's first concert since the "Human Rights Concerts" were held from 1986 to 1998, and included U2, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Peter Gabriel.
From New York Times...
“I’d like to thank Pussy Riot,” Madonna said, “for making the word ‘pussy’ a sacred word in my household.”
She was speaking from the stage of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, introducing two members of that Russian activist group, who had recently emerged from prison not just outspoken women and critics of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but global symbols of rebellion. On Wednesday night, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were two of the main attractions at a benefit concert for Amnesty International, where the musical stars included Blondie, Tegan and Sara, Imagine Dragons and the Flaming Lips, and the message was one of supporting human rights.
Madonna did not perform, but, in head-to-toe black, read from a long statement to welcome Ms. Tolokonnikova and Ms. Alyokhina, known to their fans as Nadya and Masha.
“It’s not a coincidence that I was on tour and that I happened to be in Moscow the day that Pussy Riot went on trial,” Madonna said, because she had been horrified to hear of their 2012 arrest, on charges of hooliganism, for performing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. She added that she had been threatened with arrest herself, for performances in Russia that were said to promote “gay behavior.”
“Needless to say, I did not change one moment of my show,” she said, but 87 members of her audience were arrested over displays of gay pride.
All of this made her more vocal than ever in defending free speech, she said, and in commending the punk protesters for their actions.
“It’s time for the rest of the world to be as brave as Pussy Riot,” she said, as the women took the stage and hugged her. Ms. Alyokhina began by thanking those who had written them letters while they were in jail. “Those letters helped us stay alive,” she said through a translator.
“We have to remember,” Ms. Tolokonnikova added, “that freedom is not a given. It’s something we have to fight for.”
They were released on Dec. 23, after spending 21 months in separate, remote penal colonies, their plight drawing intense international attention. Their appearance at Barclays Center capped two whirlwind days in New York, during which they taped a slyly funny segment on “The Colbert Report,” visited with the editorial board of The New York Times, met Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, and were feted by Yoko Ono and the English musician Roger Waters at a private reception for Amnesty International on the Upper East Side. More interviews and meetings with academics and prison officials, to promote their new cause, prison reform and freedom for political prisoners, were to come, organized in part by the Voice Project, a nonprofit group that, along with Amnesty International, drummed up legal support and raised money for the women when they were jailed.
But their newfound acclaim did not sit smoothly with the other, still-anonymous members of Pussy Riot. Hours before the concert, those women emailed an open letter — translated into English — to supporters of the group.
“We are very pleased with Masha’s and Nadia’s release,” they wrote. “We are proud of their resistance against harsh trials that fell to their lot, and their determination by all means to continue the struggle that they had started during their stay in the colonies.
“Unfortunately for us,” the letter continued, “they are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group — feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment.”
Ms. Tolokonnikova and Ms. Alyokhina, who have taken pains to say they are no longer members of Pussy Riot, refused to communicate with the existing members of the group.
“Yes, we lost two friends,” the letter said, “but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders.” It was signed, under assumed names, by six members of the group.
Backstage before the show, in a dressing room adjacent to Lauryn Hill’s, Ms. Tolokonnikova and Ms. Alyokhina had no comment about the letter. On stage, they spoke mostly extemporaneously, making impassioned calls for the release of Russian political prisoners and reading from some of their legal statements. “We demand a Russia that is free,” Ms. Tolokonnikova concluded, leading the crowd in an English chant: “Russia will be free!”
The audience roared. Afterward, Ms. Alyokhina and Ms. Tolokonnikova, along with Ms. Tolokonnikova’s husband, Pyotr Verzilov, were swept out of the arena quickly. They were still jet-lagged and had had an exhausting day. And besides, Madonna had invited them to dinner.