The director of New York-based Human Rights in China said the dissident movement had a lot of work to do.
Liu Qing said its immediate task both in and out of China was to appeal for international support and win the release of all the political prisoners.
'Appeals have to be made and governments and the United Nations have to be lobbied,' he said.
Mr Liu suggested setting up a network among organisations which could help the prisoners and their families.
With the democracy movement suppressed, Mr Liu said activists should change their tactics.
'Taking radical action is not necessarily productive,' he said.
'The problem is the society as a whole cannot catch up with their actions. They must insist on laying the groundwork.' Mr Liu said he was disappointed with the weak response of the international community to the sentences.
Hong Kong-based labour activist Han Dongfang said the pro-democracy campaign was hampered by being an elitist movement confined to a small group of intellectuals who failed to unite with the masses.
'The dissidents are playing some tragic roles on the political stage while the ordinary people are the audience who cannot relate with them,' he said.
Another dissident, New York-based Hu Ping, said he felt uneasy six months ago when organisers started to form the opposition party. The dissidents did not have strong enough support.
'Not only was it impossible to achieve any breakthrough, it could also provoke a backlash which will squeeze the already limited space for them,' he said.