MANAGUA, SEPT. 8 -- The Nicaraguan government freed two jailed human rights activists today during a visit by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a staunch opponent of U.S. aid to contra rebels.

"I have received orders from the minister of interior to turn over to you Lino Hernandez and Alberto Saborio, now in complete freedom, as recognition of your efforts to improve the situation in our country," Javier Lopez, second in command of the Enrique Schmidt prison said to Harkin, during his visit to the prison.

Hernandez, secretary general of the Permanent Human Rights Commission, and Saborio, head of the Nicaraguan Bar Association, were arrested Aug. 15 for participating in an unauthorized antigovernment demonstration. They were sentenced to 30 days in jail, and on Aug. 26 began a hunger strike in protest.

The two men's release took place after Harkin met for more than an hour with President Daniel Ortega and asked to visit the prisoners. Harkin is touring Central America to review a regional peace plan signed Aug. 7.

"Please convey to the minister of interior my deep appreciation for his willingness not only to honor my request to visit the prisoners but for also honoring my request that they be released as soon as possible," Harkin said after the two men were released. He added, though, that he told Ortega he wished the arrests had never taken place.

Hernandez told the senator: "We are deeply grateful for your efforts on our behalf. We . . . will continue with our struggle to ensure human rights are respected in Nicaragua and the peace accords are fulfilled."