Because of western interest in his situation, Chen himself is nearly untouchable. But that apparently doesn't hold for his family.
The arrest comes as a senior lawyer defending Chen described to the Guardian how he lost his hearing in a beating by a senior state security official after he tried to visit his client in hospital last week.
Chen - a self-trained "barefoot lawyer" - has risen to international prominence since his intrepid escape last month from extrajudicial house arrest cast a harsh light on China's repressive domestic security policies and triggered a flurry of bilateral diplomacy.
But while he is now confident of his own safety, fears are growing about his family and lawyers.
The activist's nephew Chen Kegui faces a sentence ranging from 10 years in prison to the death penalty after he brandished a meat cleaver at intruders who burst into his home in Linyi, Shandong province, during the search for his uncle.
Lawyers say he acted in self-defence and only wounded the intruders, but his legal team have come under intense pressure from the local authorities to drop what looks set to become one of China's most politicised criminal cases in recent years.
Liu Weiguo, his lawyer, said he had heard about the charges from the Chen family. He said it was difficult to talk further because the authorities had forbidden him from talking to the foreign media.
Another member of the defence team, Chen Wuquan (no relation), told the Guardian he was supposed to visit Shandong on Thursday to meet his client, but his lawyer's licence had been confiscated.
Jiang Tianyong, another lawyer, said the charges were ridiculous.
"Obviously it was justifiable self-defence. What else can you call it when 10 armed, unknown men crawl over the wall, break into his house and beat him? Instead of punishing the culprits, the authorities are reversing the meaning of 'good' and 'evil'."
And so it goes in China - a place that some liberals want the US to emulate. Speak against the government and get jailed, beaten, and your family harrassed and arrested. Sounds like a paradise to me.