The Polish government this week has offered the Secretary-General of the United Nations a gesture and a hint. The gesture was the release of an imprisoned UN employee, Alicja Wesolowska. She had been arrested in August 1979 while visiting her parents. Six months later she was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on a charge of attempting to recruit Poles to work for the American Central Intelligence Agency.
The hint, flowing from what UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar called ''very encouraging'' talks Feb. 20 on human rights with Gen. Wojciecj Jaruzelski, was that the Polish leader may be contemplating a move on the thorny question of political detainees.
Eleven leading dissidents and former Solidarity activists have been held in martial law custody for more than two years. They were formally charged in early 1983 with plotting against the state but have not yet been brought to trial.
General Jaruzelski had long seen the Perez de Cuellar visit as a possible forum for improving his image in the West. Reportedly, however, the UN Secretary-General declined to go to Poland without assurances of Miss Wesolowska's early release - which then occurred while he was still in Poland.
The Secretary-General and General Jaruzelski also discussed the international situation. Mr. Perez de Cuellar later commended Polish concern for a resumption of East-West dialogue. But the main theme of the Perez de Cuellar visit was undoubtedly human rights.
In his acceptance speech Sunday of an honorary degree in Krakow, the Secretary-General spoke in general terms of widespread violations of human rights around the world. He singled out no specific countries. But his forceful allusions to free and independent trade unions as one of the most fundamental rights hit home with special force in Poland.
Some 45 former supporters of the Solidarity union and opponents of martial law are serving prison sentences. Up to another 150 are still in detention.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar's later remarks after talking with General Jaruzelski, however, quickly prompted speculation that the Polish leadership is looking for a way to end the current, repressive detention without trial - without giving the 11 leading dissidents mentioned above an opportunity to set up any sort of ''opposition platform.''
These dissidents reject emigration. In jail they are the last remaining substantial symbol of what Solidarity stood for. It is doubtful, therefore, that they would enter into any understanding that would restrain them from speaking out and being active politically once they were freed.
Some such understanding, however, may be precisely what the authorities are hoping for.
Already such an accommodation has been reached between the authorities and the Roman Catholic Church under Jozef Cardinal Glemp. Apparent moves by the church, doubtless in consultation with the Pope, to restrain several priests who have continued to speak out forthrightly for Solidarity must be seen in this context.
Both the Vatican and the government lately have spoken of the possibility of a return this year to the diplomatic relations broken off by the communists soon after World War II. Church sources also have spoken with some optimism of official recognition of the church's ''legal status'' - meaning recognition of its right to an active place in the life of the nation.
The church continues to press its demand for release of all political prisoners. But it also urges all Poles to cooperate in overcoming the economic crisis. In this way it believes an atmosphere can be created more amenable to conciliation.