Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow said on Tuesday that winning their appeal against the prison terms they were given over the storming of Civic Square at Tamar in 2014 was "not a victory".
They said that is because the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) still considered their action to be violent, and they expect more activists to be jailed in future based on this sentencing principle.
Wong said although they have escaped going back to prison over the case, there is nothing to celebrate. He described the ruling as harsh and "sugar-coated".
"In the future ... maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgement," Wong said.
"We urge people to continue to fight for democracy. At the same time, it's not the time for any congratulation or celebration. It's still a hard time for Hong Kong people to fight for democracy no matter inside or outside the institution."
Law said his heart sank when he heard the ruling, which he described as "a lost battle" on the road to democracy. He said he was worried that peaceful assemblies in the future will be considered to be violent action.
"If the definition of violence is narrowed down to such a threshold, then any peaceful assemblies will be exposed to be defined as violence. It definitely has, in effect, curtailed people participating in these peaceful assemblies and therefore poses a threat to their right to assembly," Law said.
Democratic Party lawmaker and lawyer James To said he was worried that the top court's decision may affect people's freedom to assemble because the CFA affirmed the tighter sentencing guideline on violent unlawful assemblies issued by the Court of Appeal.
To said he was concerned that the use of only minor violence by just a few people could result in many other protesters at a rally also being charged.
But New People's Party lawmaker Eunice Yung, who is also a barrister, welcomed the CFA's ruling, saying people's rights and freedoms will not be affected by it.
"We still enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and I don't think it violates any human rights in Hong Kong. I believe the CFA judgement upholds what should be the peaceful way to [hold an] assembly," Yung said.