MINSK, Belarus — Authorities in Belarus have detained at least three journalists in what some view as an attack on freedom of speech.

Belarus' Investigative Committee said Tuesday the journalists from two leading independent news outlets were detained on charges of getting unsanctioned access to information from the state news BelTA, and failing to pay for it.

They may face up to two years in prison if convicted.

Andrei Bastunets, the head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, criticized the move as an attempt to intimidate independent journalists. He said that "the authorities are trying to cover the attack on leading independent media with economic motives."

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 10 million since 1994, cracking down on dissent and free media and maintaining Soviet-style control over its economy.