When the Bolivian police couldn't catch the young woman they were hunting, they moved in with her friend Maria Luisa Vargas instead.

In shifts, for 10 days, they occupied her home in La Paz's poor El Alto district, forbidding her father and sister to go to work, her mother to go shopping, or the four children to go to school. They would not allow a couple who had been visiting when they came in to go home. They brought in food and took what they liked.

Finally the police left on Feb. 20, taking Maria Luisa, 18, and her father along. They are still being held on unspecified charges.

"It's that kind of thing we have to denounce and stop before it spreads," said a middle-aged priest. After two years of silence, a citizens' organization to combat continuing human-rights violations is again forming in Bolivia, and this time its founders are determined to keep it going.

Maria Luisa's case is among the milder ones known to the new Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in Bolivia, as it calls itself. About 45 priests, lawyers, businessmen, teachers and others first met clandestinely in November; now it claims a nucleus of 100 working to create branches and representative units throughout Bolivia and feels strong enough to go public.

This rugged Andean nation of 5.6 million is currently enjoying a modest economic upturn, the partial product of President Hugo Banzer Suarez' tough pursuit of stability and order during his 5 1/2 years in office. The price in human terms has been substantial; Church sources estimate at least 5,000 exiles and "several hundred" alleged leftists dead or missing.

Recently, signed confessions of former Communist affiliation along with statements of repentance and a picture of the offender have begun to appear as advertisements in the self-censored El Diario newspaper. Few observers think the confessions were signed voluntarily.

In another typical episode, army troops occupied the major tin mines in June when 35,000 miners struck over wages and Banzer's refusal to repatriate the body of former President Juan Torres, a leftist who was murdered in exile in Argentina. A social worker who was near the big Catavi mine said the government was "ruthless, terribly hard."

At least 200 persons were arrested, 32 leaders were exiled to Chile and hundreds of other miners were fired. There were house-to-house searches and beatings, and the area was closed to outsiders. Journalists, priests and even food trucks were forbidden to enter.

The strike folded after 28 days.

Asked about the human-rights situation, Banzer said in a written response to questions that his government respects human rights and wishes it were never forced to use "preventive measures" against what he called small groups.

"Such measures are justified by the long tradition of political turbulence that characterized the country in recent years, but the treatment given the few detained for political reasons is humane and correct," he said.

Several sources put the number of political prisoners at 100 or 150.

An American Priest who had been visiting political prisoners and protesting their treatment, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, 38, of New Orleans, a member of the Maryknoll order, was arrested outside his tiny room in a slum section high on the rim of the city Nov. 14.

He said in an affidavit to the Bolivian Episcopal conference that he was beaten, questioned about nonexistent secret leftist meetings and again beaten and cut on the back with a machine gun butt.

Six Bolivians who knew him were arrested the same day and two are still being held. The priest was ordered to leave the country but the minister of the interior rescinded the order when other Maryknoll missionaries threatened to make the abuse public.

"I wanted to go back to work, but the people in the neighborhood were afraid to talk to me," said Bourgeois in a recent interview. Bitter over what he regards as a lack of vocal support from the Bolivian church, he was planning to leave for the United States.

Some disappointment at the church hierarchy's role is also reflected in the formation of the new human-rights group.

The church-based Justice and Peace Committee, which had offered legal counsel and information services to families of prisoners, was shut down in March 1975 and its leaders expelled. The hierarchy promised to reorganize it, but in two years nothing had been done by the conservative leaders put in charge of the project.

The new organization plans to function much as the old one did, denouncing abuses, visiting prisoners in jail and offering help to distressed family members.

A former president of Bolivia, Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas, is the most outstanding member of the six-man steering committee and about the only member who will openly identify himself with the group.