President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on the
Sochi Games. But Russia has come under pressure by human rights
activists in the months leading up to the games for its
intolerance of political dissent and a law passed last year
banning promotion of homosexuality among minors.
"We demand a Russia that is free and a Russia without Putin,"
said Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, after being introduced
at Amnesty International's "Bringing Human Rights Home" concert
by the pop star Madonna.
The case of Pussy Riot, in particular, has sparked a global
In 2012, Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 25, were
convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after
storming Moscow's biggest Orthodox cathedral and beseeching the
Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.
After nearly two years behind bars, Putin granted them amnesty
Before speaking at the concert, the pair met with U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to discuss
"disturbing" trends in Russia, prompting a retort from Moscow's
At the concert, the pair sought to draw attention to the fate of
eight Russian demonstrators who will be sentenced later this
month after being charged with mass disorder at a 2012 protest
While Pussy Riot did not perform, R&B singer Lauryn Hill,
Blondie, and the alternative rock groups Imagine Dragons and
Cake played at the all-star concert at a packed Barclays Center
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"Pussy Riot in many ways symbolizes the spirit of what Amnesty
stands for, which is that we take injustice personally and that
we speak truth to power," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary
general, at a press conference before the concert.
"We do not want anybody to be fooled by what is
happening before the Sochi Olympics."
At the same news conference, Alyokhina said she absolutely did not
regret the performance that landed her in prison and said there was
no question but that she would continue to live in Russia.
"We want to say to him, 'Leave,'" she said of Putin.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina also denied rumors about Pussy Riot's
"Anybody can be Pussy Riot. You just need to put on
a mask and stage an act of protest in your particular country,"
Alyokhina said. "We are just two individuals that spent two years in
jail for taking part in a Pussy Riot protest action."
While in the United States, the women plan to visit prisons and meet
with related non-governmental organizations to gain insight into how
the Russian prison system might be improved.
The women made a similar trip to Holland, but said they could not
imagine that Russian prisons would ever resemble Dutch facilities,
which Tolokonnikova described as "a universe apart."
The event marks the return of a global concert series that Nobel
Peace Prize-winning Amnesty International began 25 years ago, which
has featured such rock greats as U2, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and
"Now it's time to pass that torch to another generation of young
artists," said Steven Hawkins, Amnesty's executive director.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Marguerita Choy, Eric M. Johnson and Lisa Shumaker)
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