studied philology and initially worked for a number of local and foreign media in Azerbaijan. Until 2017, she worked as a radio presenter for the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe (RFE), which office in Baku was closed in 2015. Since 2017, she is a regional editor of the journalists’ network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. For more than a decade, Ismayilova has been working primarily on the corruption and nepotism of the Aliyev clan ruling in Azerbaijan, such as the ownership of the minor daughter of the airline Azerbaijan Airlines. At least since 2012, the regime has tried different methods to silence Ismayilova: new laws, dirty campaigns, arrests, and court cases. In 2014, the head of the Presidential Administration cited Ismayilova as "the best example of journalists working against the government". In September 2015, Ismayilova was finally sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for "tax evasion and abuse of power". After international criticism, she was released in 2016 and her sentence changed to probation in three and a half years. Ismayilova continues to be harassed: an exit ban was imposed on her in 2017, which is still valid. This prevented, among other things, the acceptance of the "Right Livelihood Award" (Alternative Nobel Prize), which she received in 2017.
Together with other foreign journalists, Ismayilova lodged a complaint with the German Federal Constitutional Court against the practice of telecommunications intelligence abroad by the Federal Intelligence Service. On 19 May 2020, the court ruled that the statutory regulation on "strategic surveillance" of telecommunications and, in addition, the disclosure of information obtained to domestic and foreign services does not comply with the German Basic Law and must be revised.