In September, the Commonwealth warned that it might suspend the country for what the organization described as its failure to address several threats to democratic governance.
In a statement, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision was “difficult, but inevitable.”
The decision further isolates the tiny archipelago nation during a turbulent political moment. After three decades of authoritarian rule, the Maldives elected Mohamed Nasheed as president in 2008 in its first democratic election. In 2012, he was pushed out of office in what he said was a military coup and imprisoned under an antiterrorism law that critics say was abused. In the last year, the government of the current president, Abdulla Yameen, has prosecuted officials and members of the political opposition amid a growing international outcry.
The Maldives is Asia’s smallest country, with about 400,000 predominantly Muslim inhabitants.
Its withdrawal from the Commonwealth, a 53-nation body made up largely of former British colonies, is the latest conflict between world leaders and Mr. Yameen, who has been beleaguered by corruption allegations and calls to step down.
At its September meeting in New York, the Commonwealth underlined six areas of concern in the Maldives, including the lack of a political dialogue among governing and opposition parties, the detention of political prisoners, the use of terrorism laws against political opponents, and the independence of the judiciary.
It said that it would consider suspending the Maldives if those concerns had not been addressed by its next meeting, in March.
In Thursday’s statement, the government of the Maldives said the Commonwealth had been seeking to punish the country since 2012, after the president resigned and the “transfer of power took place as per the procedures set out in the Constitution.”
The Commonwealth’s secretary general, Patricia Scotland, said in a statement that its members would “share my sadness and disappointment at this decision.” She said she hoped it would be a “temporary separation and that Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course.”
Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives who is now the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, said the decision to leave the Commonwealth would prove counterproductive.
“He is getting deeper and deeper into isolation,” Mr. Shaheed said in a telephone interview from London, referring to President Yameen. “He would think he’s insulating himself from Commonwealth criticism, but he will receive more and more.”
Amnesty International said in a statement Thursday that “human rights have been in a complete free fall” over the last couple of years in the Maldives.
“The Maldives authorities should address their own human rights situation rather than lash out at legitimate criticism,” it said.