Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (R), members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, at a press conference in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Feb. 5, 2014.
Johnny Simon for msnbc

Pussy Riot vows to fight Russian laws

Updated

Russian activists Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina made clear Wednesday night that almost two years of jail time was not going to silence members of the punk rock dissident band, Pussy Riot.

“Russia will be free,” the duo shouted in English before a packed arena at Amnesty International’s “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert in New York City.

Just over a month after their release from a 21-month stint behind bars, the two women pledged to fight against their homeland’s repressive government until all political prisoners of conscience were freed. They read testimonials from participants in a May 6, 2012, Moscow rally, currently facing five to six year jail sentences for protesting President Putin’s re-election.

“We demand a Russia that is free; a Russia without Putin,” said Tolokonnikova, to riotous applause.

The two women were released in December after serving prison time on hooliganism charges for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a Moscow church. They were wearing balaclavas and shouting, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, chase Putin out, chase Putin out, chase Putin out” - lyrics to their song, “Punk Prayer.”

The Daily Rundown, 12/23/13, 10:03 AM ET

Putin orders release of jailed musicians

The Russian government is making good on the amnesty offered by President Putin with the release of two members of “Pussy Riot.” NBC’s Jim Maceda reports and the “gaggle” discusses.

Their release under an amnesty decree that also freed businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky – another high profile Putin critic – was widely panned as a public relations push by the Russian leader designed to reduce international criticism ahead of the Sochi Olympics, which begin on Friday.

Since regaining his presidency in 2012, Putin has signed into law a series of harsh policies on human rights and civil liberties, including a measure banning homosexual “propaganda” among minors, a law requiring any group financed from overseas or engaged in political activities to register as “foreign agent,” and a law increasing fines and prison sentences for people convicted of extremism, to name a few.

Though their New York reception was far warmer than the one they received back home for speaking out against the Russian government, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have no plans of staying in the U.S. for long, even if going back means going back to jail.

“We’re going back to Russia,” said Alyokhina earlier in a press conference. “We want to live in Russia. It’s our country and we want to make it a free country.”

The two women were introduced at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Wednesday night by Madonna, who was coincidentally performing in Moscow the day of their trial.

“I was shocked and outraged when I heard about this,” she said.

After speaking openly about their case at her concert the next night, Madonna said she received several death threats and accusations of performing a “gay show.” She said she was sued for $1 million, while authorities arrested 87 people in her audience for displaying openly gay behavior.

“What I realized when I went to Russia was how lucky I am to live in a country where I can speak my mind,” said Madonna.

Other performers and speakers included Imagine Dragons, Cake, Blondie, Bridget Moynahan, the Cold War Kids, Colbie Caillat, the Flaming Lips, Lauryn Hill, The Fray, Tegan and Sara, Bob Geldof, Susan Sarandon, and Yoko Ono. Their message was that art should be used as a weapon to free people from the literal and metaphysical bars of injustice–an idea the visiting members of Pussy Riot can certainly get behind.

“When we first started Pussy Riot, one of our central thoughts was that a musician must bear social responsibility,” said Tolokonnikova in a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s concert. “Music must sing not only about sunshine and love. We must also sing about politics; we must sing about people who are behind bars, who don’t have a voice. So we’re glad that so many musicians share our view.”

Olympics

Pussy Riot vows to fight Russian laws

Updated