The Republic of Maldives has withdrawn from the Commonwealth after the Indian Ocean nation was accused of failing to show progress on democracy, says the BBC.

Describing its move as “difficult but inevitable”, the nation says the Commonwealth did “not recognise its achievements in strengthening its democratic institutions and a raft of measures promoting human rights”.

The Commonwealth had issued a warning of suspension if changes were not made, but its Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, said that although she is saddened by the Maldives’ decision to leave, she hopes it will be a “temporary separation”.

Islam is the only recognised religion. Life as a non-Muslim in the Maldives is difficult, according to the charity Open Doors, which ranks it 13th in its World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. It says: “the promotion of any other religion is illegal and punishable by 2-5 years in prison. Although the state recognises expatriate Christians, they are not allowed to hold any religious activities, including Christian weddings, funerals or baptisms”.

The constitution denies citizenship to non-Muslims and the country introduced a strict defamation law in August, with stiff punishments for comments or actions considered insulting to Islam. Thomas Muller, analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research, commented at the time: “It is surprising that this new law restricts freedom of religion even further… What this law adds is that the religious unity of the country should receive protection too. As a consequence, all expressions of Islam that the government does not approve of will be in trouble too. One observer concludes that, given the close ties the Maldives has formed with Saudi Arabia, religious practice is increasingly likely to orientate towards Wahhabism [conservative Islam]. For Christians, this law will not bring much change, but it remains to be seen if Christian migrant workers [in the tourism sector] will be affected by it”.

The pressure group, The Ethical Maldives Alliance, said last year that “the Maldives has a long and sad history of political oppression and human rights abuses… Most tourists to the islands remain blissfully unaware of the realities of life for the local population”.